Challenge Assumptions — Break Boundaries

for organizations


c.os.org.wonder.04

This Domain-Level Guide is designed to be used based on the Core Model. Please refer to the Challenge Assumptions — Break Boundaries Core Practice before exploring this guide.

overview

The organizational mental model is based on implicit and explicit assumptions. These assumptions are designed to help us move faster and reuse what we already know or believe we know. When you limit your playground based on these assumptions without even realizing it, let alone questioning them, you miss opportunities for creative breakthroughs.

Since many assumptions are well-rooted in the organization, its processes, and its culture, identifying and challenging them requires methodical work and sufficient room for questioning and experimenting. An organizational mindset that encourages asking questions and continuous challenging is crucial to Breaking Boundaries and broadening your playground.

guide

Remap the Boundaries of the Challenge

Successful organizations are constantly facing and trying to overcome challenges. Challenges are the friction created between the current reality and the desire to grow and evolve.

A challenge is defined by boundaries. Without boundaries, what we aim to achieve is not considered a challenge but a simple task. Still, some boundaries we believe to be defining the challenge might be fake boundaries based on false assumptions. Many creative breakthroughs result from challenging boundaries, identifying the imaginary ones, and redefining the problem space or the solution space in a way not previously considered.

  • Identify the boundaries of the challenge. Consider both explicit boundaries and implicit ones.
  • Question each of the boundaries: wonder what would happen if it wouldn’t exist, if you break it, or if you made it more flexible.
  • Look for opportunities in breaking some of the boundaries.
Uncover Hidden Assumptions

Creative opportunities can originate from everything you do. Even the things you do not consider challenges are based on some assumptions and your existing mental model. It is often easier to flow with current practices and methods in organizations simply because they are already an inherent part of “how things are done.”

Uncovering and challenging the hidden assumptions at the basis of such actions create new opportunities to do things differently, and as a result, achieve surprising results.

  • Challenge the things you do and how you do them. Focus primarily on the things you do on auto-pilot.
  • Ask ‘Why’ and ‘What If’ relentlessly. Strive to answer these questions.
  • When you uncover a hidden assumption, consider it as a boundary. Add it to your boundary mapping and try to remap it.
Make Room for Breaking Boundaries

Challenging Assumptions and Breaking Boundaries is not just a thought exercise. Sometimes you need to experiment and try doing things differently just to see what happens without being sure of the results.

In a goal- and plan-oriented organizational context, such experimentation might not be trivial if you don’t explicitly make room for it in your plans and create a fallback option in case the experiment fails (and many of them will). Adding Breaking Boundaries activities as an explicit part of the plan will create better alignment with external and internal stakeholders. You will send a clear positive message encouraging this experimentation.

  • Make room in your plan for experimenting with doing things differently.
  • Start by building a safe environment for experimenting, but plan to apply some of the ideas in a real-world context.

examples

Example 1

Retrospective activities are common in organizations that wish to learn from past events and improve their practices, processes, and working methods. Usually, retrospectives focus on what didn’t work well and could be improved and what worked as expected and should be maintained.

Challenging how something was done even if it was effective and apparently should not be improved might open new and surprising possibilities. This is where doing more of the same due to inertia (even if it seems to work) can close the door to potential breakthroughs.

Example 2

When planning a project, pick a couple of activities and ask, as a team, why are we doing them the way we do. Consider alternative methods to perform these tasks or replace these activities with new ones altogether.

The more extensive the change is, the riskier it can be, so consider the risk level you are willing to take and define a fallback plan. Remember, though, that with the inherent risk comes the opportunity to do things differently and set the ground for creative breakthroughs.

related practices

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