Skip to content

Posted On



New Year’s Resolution – Take the First Step in Becoming a Master Thinker

Bad habits can be hard to break, but we all know it is important to overcome them. At the beginning of each year, many of us resolve to change our bad habits into good ones. In the spirit of New Year’s optimism, I encourage our readers to use this month to focus on Master Thinker Habit #1: Challenging Key Assumptions.

Recognizing and challenging one’s own assumptions is difficult. Analysts and their managers should strive to create an environment in which assumptions are identified and questioned on a daily basis. In a healthy  work environment, challenging assumptions should be commonplace, ranging from “Why do you assume we all want pepperoni pizza?” to “Won’t decreased oil prices force them to reconsider their export strategy?” If you expect your colleagues to challenge your assumptions on a regular basis, you will become more sensitive to when you actually are making assumptions, and you will increasingly ask yourself if they are well-founded.

If time allows, you should record your assumptions at a later date. Writing down the assumptions also greatly facilitates the process of examining them critically. Particular attention should be paid to assumptions that are assessed as unsupported because these often are key uncertainties that need to be researched or for which collection requirements need to be written.

Challenging your key assumptions on a regular basis will help you lay the groundwork to develop the second habit of a Master Thinker: Considering Alternative Explanations, which will be expanded upon in next month’s Analytic Insider.

For practical advice on challenging assumptions, refer to the article below, written by our methodologist, Mary Boardman, Ph. D.

When You Assume Things…

Mary Boardman, PhD

Let’s face it. We all make assumptions. They are unavoidable. In an increasingly uncertain and complex world, these assumptions help us fill in the gaps and make sense of our  environment. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to assure that these assumptions are out in the open and well-understood. Specifically, you should do a Key Assumptions Check
before finalizing your conclusions.

A Key Assumptions Check is a simple, yet incredibly powerful technique to list and evaluate assumptions. Specifically, the first step in this technique is to list all the assumptions you or your group can think of. Since most assumptions are implicit and taken for granted, making these assumptions explicit is an incredibly useful activity in itself.

Once the assumptions are listed, go through each one and assess if it is supported, supported with caveats, or unsupported. It may appear that unsupported assumptions are not desirable, but these unsupported assumptions may actually be key uncertainties. Part of the power and utility of this technique is its ability to take implicit, but unsupported, assumptions and transform
them into explicit key uncertainties.

Assumptions are unavoidable, but making them explicit is helpful. We get a better sense of what we are assuming, why we are making that assumption, and the level to which it is justified. We also get a better sense of the level of uncertainty being faced in a situation. This technique is useful within a professional and analytic context-in fact, in almost any context. Assumptions come into play when making any decision, such as whether to buy a house, accept a job offer, or take your car for repairs. A Key Assumptions Check is helpful both in and out of the office.

Just as we do not make or analyze assumptions in a vacuum, a Key Assumptions Check is most useful when combined with other techniques. To hone these skills and learn other techniques, we invite you to register for our Diagnostic Structured Analytic Techniques (DSAT) course on February 3, 10, 17, March 3 (a total of four 3-hour sessions). Be sure to reserve your space, the course is
filling up fast!

Certificate Program

Our certificate courses are designed to improve the quality of analytic and critical thinking skills.


(703) 390-9900

TH!NK Suite®

Enhance the Impact of Your Analysis.

Our collaborative webbased tools help analysts employ Structured Analytic Techniques effectively. They can be used routinely making the analysis more rigorous while saving time.

Learn more

Pherson books and other publications are now available through
Please note Globalytica is a separate entity from Pherson.