Recognising and testing your assumptions is a critical aspect of driving business growth. Yet many of our fundamental assumptions often remain unchallenged.

For example, the photo shows me as six-year old nursing a sparrow I’d found in the garden. The sparrow had a broken wing and so my mother and I put it in our garage with a saucer of bread and milk.

A couple of mornings later the sparrow had gone. My mother told me that the broken wing had recovered and the bird had flown away.

I’m sure that you already know the real ending. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The sparrow simply died and my mum put it in the bin.

But here’s the thing: I only realised this when my mother told me a couple of years ago – when I was 42 years old!

Shame on me, you may say, and you’d be right. But we all carry around beliefs and assumptions that we simply take for granted and no longer question or even think about.

Invisibly, they control our decisions, our allocation of resources and the issues we choose to focus on. Yet if we shake the scales from our eyes, and look at our situation afresh, new opportunities can appear. For example:

  • Ryanair’s growth is based on ignoring the assumption that all passengers want and will pay for full-service air travel.
  • Tesco’s success can be traced back to its decision in the 1980s to move away from high streets and into larger out-of-town locations, a policy it pursued with more speed, rigour and determination than its rivals.
  • First Direct transformed UK retail banking by challenging the assumption that all banks needed branches to serve customers well.

What are your ‘injured sparrows’? What are the assumptions and beliefs that shape your thinking and which you have not challenged in recent years? And what new opportunities would be created if you did?

© Stuart Cross 2009. All rights reserved.