How often do you challenge your own assumptions? Assumptions you may have about work, other people, even yourself? It’s been my experience that all of us make assumptions on some level, but very few of us have the insight and discipline to actively challenge them. Here is my most recent example, for your consideration.
I recently had the privilege of being a keynote speaker at an international PMI Summit in Ankara, Turkey. And even as I write these words, it seems almost surreal to me that my work has taken me to such incredible places and opened my world to so many more possibilities.
It has also presented me with challenges in regard to how I see myself and the world around me. My assumptions have been challenged – even shattered in many ways.
“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in while, or the light won't come in.” – Alan Alda
When I was first invited to speak at the summit, I had many questions. What is it like there? How will I be accepted as an American? Is it dangerous? What about modern services like hotels, etc.? And a whole host of other questions that begged to be answered.
As I spoke with friends and colleagues about my upcoming trip, they certainly had some advice for me. I heard things like, “Be careful, they may not receive Americans well at this time,” or “It’s kind of dangerous over there right now and the terrorist threat level is high.”
Then, as I spoke with more friends who have traveled abroad extensively I began to hear some different things. “It’s an amazing country, very ancient and beautiful,” and “Istanbul is one of the most impressive cities in the world, with an incredible culture and amazing food.” (I went to Istanbul for a couple days after the summit in Ankara.)
Needless to say, some of these things gave me reason to pause and think about how I wanted to approach this trip. And I made a decision – I am going to go there just like I would travel anywhere in the U.S. – with an open mind and open heart; I’ll embrace the culture and immerse myself in the environment; and I won’t spend all my time and energy worrying about what can go wrong.
Let’s state the obvious – since I’m writing this, nothing went wrong.
“It's sad that we never get trained to leave assumptions behind.” – Sebastian Thrun
Now, let me tell you what went right. I was surprised and impressed by the city of Ankara, Turkey. It is a large city of more than 5 million people and I certainly didn’t expect that. It also has many modern buildings and amenities, including major shopping malls, modern roads and traffic systems, and exquisite restaurants. In fact, it’s a very cosmopolitan city. Assumption shattered.
The people were amazing – open, friendly, welcoming, and warm. In fact, the hospitality they showed me was beyond my expectations. And I never felt unsafe at any time while there. In fact, I’ve never felt more welcome in a place I’d never been before. And the food? Well, let’s just say that my suitcase wasn’t the only thing that came home with a few extra pounds! Assumption shattered.
The Summit was incredibly well organized, well attended, and there were speakers from around the world who contributed to the event. And when I had my opportunity to deliver the closing keynote on day 1, I seized the moment.
I have believed for some time that my work transcends many boundaries – including cultural. This was my first real chance to test that assumption in person. I have delivered global learning events and webinars in the past, but didn’t really have the opportunity to speak face to face with attendees and get their perspectives once it was over.
My presentation was very well-received, and at the end of my keynote I spoke with dozens of people at the summit who told me how much my message resonated with them and even inspired them. Assumption confirmed.
“Untested assumptions and lazy habits of thought can be shown up, once put in a spotlight of a different hue.” – Julian Baggini
All of this led me to ponder the question, “Where else might my assumptions about the way things are (people, places, etc.) create unrealistic expectations or fears or prevent me from seeing what’s true?” I mean, we all make assumptions about these things, and many times they get in the way of us truly connecting with others. It’s worth a look.
Take some time and ask yourself some questions. What am I making assumptions about? WHO am I making assumptions about? What are those assumptions preventing me from seeing, believing, or understanding? How are my assumptions preventing me from getting the best from myself and the people around me? It’s human to have them. It’s enlightened leadership to question them.
Below are some pictures from my experience as keynote speaker at an international PMI Summit in Ankara, Turkey.
Let me know what assumptions you’ve become aware of in your life and work. What has been the impact of these assumptions? Share your comments, and let’s start a dialogue.
Quit being an average leader! Take the FREE Leadership Assessment.
Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work