By Adrian Brown
In the late 90’s when I was working as a management accountant, one of the biggest furniture stores decided to radically change the way they organised their finance function. Faced with escalating costs to provide budget management, they decided to ask the question whether it was worth it and stopped using budgets all together. The general attitude at the time was “we must have budgets” and “everyone has budgets” but this organisation asked, “How do you know?”
In NLP terms, they challenged the presuppositions and from this new ideas started to flow. So let’s have a quick review of presuppositions. These are words or phrases that are included in a sentence which, in general, go unchallenged by the listener.
If I said, “Tom’s dog ran after the ball”, the listener would generally accept that a dog exists, a person named Tom exists, Tom owns a dog, the dog has the ability to run and so on. These things are seldom questioned and are just taken as fact since it would be a ridiculous conversation if you didn’t! The magic lies in being able to notice presuppositions and identify where it would be useful to examine them further.
As an NLP practitioner you are taught to either use presuppositions strategically to influence people or to challenge their validity by asking questions such as “how do you know?”
For language to make sense, there is a presupposition in every sentence, so which ones do we examine further?
In business there are lots of systems and ways of doing things that have been done since an industry was conceived. These are the areas that often hide potential for innovation and improved efficiency. Most people in an organisation have been operating in a particular way for so long that they would never think of questioning the approach. Often when a problem arises, a presupposition often dictates how things operate and hence limits the potential solutions. So, in the industry that you work in, consider what is presupposed by all those involved and see how many areas could potentially provide innovation.
Listen for phrases such as “Everyone knows that” and “We’ve always done it this way”. These are often indicators that there’s a potential for improvement.
For example, let’s have a look at book sales. Before online books stores, the following presuppositions existed.
Books are made of paper
People like going to shops to buy books
To look at the pages you need to have the book in your hands
To read a book you need to have it printed on paper
Your staff had to be knowledgeable on the books
As we all know, none of the above are true but the industry acted as if they were true until people challenged the presuppositions and from that came up with new ideas.
From your list of presuppositions ask questions such as
How do you know it’s true?
Will that always be true?
Does anyone think otherwise?
This all may seem very simple but if you have been involved in something a long time, you may not be able to spot them easily.
Innovation often comes from a person new to an industry who asks “awkward” questions. Remember that NLP was developed from a mathematician asking about psychiatry. So I challenge you to start thinking about what things are taken for granted in your business and the other areas of your life that, when examined, may give you new ideas on what’s truly possible.