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AMA Answers: Are All Assumptions Bad?

June 5, 2013

what are assumptions

The first rule of critical thinking is to question your assumptions. But what are assumptions and are they all bad? AMA faculty member Haywood Spangler answers these questions.

What are assumptions? You have to start somewhere to solve a problem. Think of a famous scientist – you are thinking of someone who made assumptions.  Einstein and many other brilliant thinkers make them all the time.   An assumption can be the highly respectable “educated guess” we all learned about in elementary school science class.  To explain something or solve a problem, you have to start with an educated guess.

Why do assumptions have such a bad rap?  Assumptions can become problems when we stop recognizing them as the guesses they are, and start taking them as facts.  Assumptions have to be revised in light of new knowledge and evidence, even in a business problem-solving situation.  Without assumptions, we cannot think creatively.  But without revisions, assumptions can lead us to serious errors.  Analysis in business means constantly assessing and changing assumptions.  Eventually, when you solve the problem, you have proved your assumption is more than an educated guess – it is the solution.

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About The Author

Haywood Spangler developed the Spangler Ethical Reasoning Assessment (SERA), to show people how sharpening ethical reasoning improves work performance and job satisfaction. Haywood uses the SERA in seminars and key-note presentations with corporations, non-profits and government agencies. He currently conducts research with the SERA at institutions such as Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School. Haywood has 10 years of CEO experience in the non-profit sector and is an adjunct faculty member at Virginia commonwealth University. He holds graduate degrees from Yale University and The University of Virginia.

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