Watch out for Assumptions

Imagine – You are the CEO of a company that provides a product whose service to its customers is absolutely undeniable – people will always want the service you’re selling (though not necessarily “your” brand).

Apart from some refinements, the technology of this product has remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years, but it seems to suit everyone well, and all your consumers are happy.

One fine day, out of the blue, your R&D head comes to you with a breathtaking innovation. Made a product innovation that will solve the one “problem” with your product. It will make your product extremely easy to use! This is the next step!

What would you do, Mr. CEO? Would you embrace this innovation?

Well, obviously there’s a trick in this question somewhere, but some quibbles apart, usually people are forced to agree that, yes it makes business sense to “go for it”.

OK. New question – How many of you wear digital watches?

I am sure I can guess the answer. If you *do* wear a watch, nine times out ten its a good old “normal” watch, with  those familiar hands moving inexorably in that familiar circle.

But have you ever wondered…WHY? Why are you wearing that kind of watch and not a digital one? Isnt LED/LCD technology undeniably superior? Doesnt it make it so much easier to tell the time? Then why isnt it the “top choice”?

When digital LCD technology came along it heralded a brave new dawn for the wristwatch. Imagine! You could finally see, in numbers, what time it actually was! This was a godsend! All watch companies gleefully embraced this technology, and it seemed that how we “tell the time” was finally going to change for the first time in a hundred years.

But did it? No.

Why not?

Well, LCD/LED technology seems awesome, because there was an unspoken assumption that seemed so obvious that, well, no one bothered to think about it.

The assumption was that we use watches to tell what time it is.

Believe it or not, this assumption isn’t true – we don’t use watches to tell what time it is, at least  “right now”. Rather we use our watch to calculate “How much time left till a predetermined time in the future”. And when we understand that, we can why digital LCD watches have not been the “hit” they promised to be.

Lets take an example – you have to get to a meeting at 1045. On your way you look at your watch – why? To find out “how much time left until 1045”. If you’re wearing a digital watch, and the time is say 10:09 – you have to do a little bit of mental math to tell yourself how much time you’ve got – some 46 minutes. wait… 36 minutes. Right?

However, with a normal watch, telling how much time you have left is a breeze – this watch gives you a VISUAL representation of time. You look at it and you see “How much of the arc of the circle” is left till 1045 – you see that its a shademore than 50% of the circle, you know you have slightly  more than 30  minutes to get there.

Think about this assumption the next time you look at your watch, and you’ll see that the only time you actually care about what time it is “right now” is when someone actually asks you what time it is. And notice how when that happens it actually takes you that split second of time to answer – Because youre not USED to using your watch in that manner; usually, you look at the watch to find out “how much time you have left” to some predetermined time in the near future.

All around us, such assumptions abound. From using GDP to measure wealth, to “established” business models even to the reason why women’s shirt buttons are on the left, these are remnants of certain environmental conditions that necessitated design in a certain manner. Very often these assumptions lose their raison d’etre in a changed environment, but we persist with them, simply because we never bother to question them.

As our environment gets more chaotic and turbulent, it becomes increasingly important for all decision makers to question the underlying assumptions behind the situation, and exploring if those assumptions still remain valid.

After all, the clocks ticking.


About Tarun

Joker, smoker, midnight toker. Teacher, writer, general gadabout
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3 Responses to Watch out for Assumptions

  1. SuperTramP says:

    Bravo! Another insightful take on daily life and as good as the buttons and the hat story. Maybe it is time for another book?

  2. Prateek says:

    Very cool…..didnt realize that. Makes a lot of sense though 🙂

  3. ishansights says:

    Time….. now i really look at the time left to go to office than wat time it is…….. and i always have been doing that……

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