I've just had the novel experience of having to deal with one of my websites being hacked - which led me to ponder once again about what leads people to spend their time and energy looking for security flaws on sites and then putting in rubbish links. I know the answer to that, but even trying to keep an open mind, I just don't get it. There's an assumption in here that is held by hackers that I don't ascribe to, and never will.  But hackers think derailing websites and malicious activity on the web is just perfectly fine and it underpins their actions. For them, their assumption is valid and they act on it.

It's the same in organisational strategy processes.

We make strategic decisions based on what we think is logic and rationality, but in reality those decisions are equally - if not more - influenced by our worldviews and our assumptions about what is right and wrong, about how business will operate into the future, and about what external trends we accept as real or regard as rubbish.

Our brains are pattern recognition machines that look for confirming evidence when seeing new things - they do this to be able to make sense of what it is that is being confronted. We have two choices really - one, we can accept our brains' pattern recognition rules, or we can try to change those rules. Often, our initial reaction is 'that's rubbish' or 'that will never happen' or 'I don't believe that', and we miss the opportunity to rewire our brains to be more open to what's possible in the future.

If we don't try to change the rules, we end up defending assumptions about the world that are valid now, but which probably will not be valid in to the future.  This unwillingness of people to have their assumptions challenged is one of the biggest obstacles to successful strategy development and implementation.

This unwillingness manifests itself when we see people hit a deeply held assumption wall and they defend that assumption to the death, figuratively speaking. It makes for robust conversations that often go nowhere.  Assumption walls are the brick walls of strategy - the elephant in the room.

No assumption is right or wrong. They just are what they are, and that needs to be respected. No assumption is permanent, however, unless you make it permanent by refusing to see alternative perspectives as valid, by demanding that others hear your point of view over and over again, or by just not listening.

Sometimes we have to stop and think about why we believe something to be true, and be open to testing out alternative points of view about that issue.  Your assumptions may well be correct for you at the moment, but that doesn't mean they will always be correct. You need to be open to challenging yourself about the 'why'.

Then, it occurred to me that, as a facilitator or manager or leader, it might be useful if we somehow had a way to hack assumptions. :-) That is, to be able to inject some code into the strategic conversation that re-directed thought, so that the assumption wall upon which the brain's pattern recognition machinery operated was shattered. This would enable people to see an issue in a new way, from a different perspective. And it wouldn't be discovered it until it had happened. As with repairing websites, we would go back and remove the assumption hack code once it had served its purpose, or the person could decide to accept the redirection.

An alternative to hacking assumptions is being willing to move out of the present and let go of its associated assumptions, to test what might be possible in the future. Not seek fact and certainty, because there are no future facts, no certainty, only possibilities. If we are willing to step out of the present and change the way we think about the future in our next strategy discussion, we should never need to hack assumptions, and we would be one step closer to ensuring our strategy today is meaningful and futures ready.