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Challenge Your Assumptions and Premises

Note: This can be considered a continuation of our page on radical thinking.

The most powerful way you can create radical new ideas is to question the premises of existing ideas and the assumptions you are making about everything. Routinely and honestly challenging what you assume to be true is perhaps the most powerful kind of thinking. Identifying those premises and assumptions is not always as easy as you might think though. More on that in a moment. First, we need to define our words.

A premise is "a statement assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn; the basis of further argument; a condition; a supposition." More formally in logic it is defined as: "Either of the first two propositions of a syllogism, from which the conclusion is drawn." For an example, the premises "All men are mortal," and "Socrates is a man," lead to the conclusion, "Socrates is mortal."

Note: Many philosophers would agree with the following thought from Ayn Rand: "Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong." But while this may be true in the strictest sense, especially with mathematics, it is only part of the story when it comes to words (Rand tended to over-simplify, to say the least). I have much more to say about that in my book "The Thousand Mile Hole," which is currently only available as a Kindle e-book (see the sidebar for more information).

In at least one dictionary, assumption shares the exact same definition as the first one for premise above. It is also, "something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition," and is defined as "The minor or second proposition in a categorical syllogism." ("Socrates is a man"). In my own usage here, "premise" will normally refer to a basis for an argument, idea or belief. An assumption, on the other hand, will refer to anything we consciously or unconsciously presuppose. A concept of property rights could be a premise for copyright law, for example, while the idea that we have to register a copyright is just one of many possible assumptions we make.

Challenge Your Assumptions!

Challenging assumptions is a great problem solving technique. In fact, it get's its own chapter in my ebook "Problem Solving Power." It is also a great way to think of new ideas in any area of life.

The first, and perhaps the hardest part of the process, is to identify as many assumptions as you can. To show you what I mean, I'll start with a scenario. Suppose you've written a book on how to survive in the wild, and you're having trouble finding a publisher. You take out a a piece of paper and start to write down a few of the assumptions you're making.

Sending the manuscript to publishers myself is the best way to go.

Challenging this assumption, it occurs to you that an agent could better promote your book to publishers.

I need a publisher.

Self-publishing the book comes to mind. But thinking about promoting the book yourself, you imagine just a few people buying a copy from you, which doesn't thrill you. However, you're watching carefully for assumptions, so you notice that as you imagine self-publishing, you are assuming...

The books will be bought one at a time by readers.

You ask, "How can I sell a thousand at a time?" You could sell a short version of the book for a few dollars each, to backpacking gear vendors. They can then give the book away as a bonus with any purchase of a backpack or sleeping bag or tent. You might make 1,000 books the minimum order size.

Challenging the most fundamental things, including your definition of the problem itself, often produces the most creative solutions. With this in mind, you realize you've been thinking...

It will be a printed book.

It occurs to you that you might sell it as an audio book, or sell it as an ebook online. Imagining the latter, you worry about...

How to sell a lot of books online.

This is another assumption, you realize. Looking at the matter more closely, you realize that if you only make about $1 or $2 on a $19 printed book, while you can keep $16 or more of each sale of a $19 ebook (if you generate traffic to your sales site for free), meaning you can sell 1/16 the number of books and still make just as much money.

Other possible assumptions:

You need to sell it as a book.

Is this true? What if you sold it as a series of articles to an outdoor magazine. You think about this and realize that although you might make less money at first, you would gain name recognition and experience for the next book.

You need to sell the book.

Now, when you write this down, your first reaction might be "Of course I need to sell it! That's the whole point!" I can tell you though, that anytime you have that kind of reaction, there is the possibility for some really radical ideas.

As a matter of fact, I have been making money for years now giving away books. Readers subscribe to an email autoresponder and receive a mailing each week that directs them to the page where the next part is hosted (similar to the way this course works). The first time I tried this with a book that wasn't selling well, I made more money on the advertising clicks and from commissions on affiliate products that I promoted than I had been making selling the book. Believe me, the assumption that you have to sell a book to make money with it has been effectively challenged and refuted by myself and many others.

Challenge Your Premises!

By the way, I wrote the above relatively quickly, as it came to me. It is safe to assume that given the same scenario, you would identify a few different assumptions to challenge, and perhaps more assumptions if you took more time. If you try it as a mental exercise, I imagine that you will also generate some different creative ideas. The same will be true of the following exercise in identifying and challenging premises.

Issue: What other kinds of governments could we have?

As I consider the various political systems, I see that most share this premise:

It is right to control individuals for the sake of "society" or the "public good.

You might want to question that one for some radical thoughts on political philosophy. I have already challenged it many times in my own thinking (I believe that governments should exist as much to protect the individual from society as vice-versa), so I have to look for other premises if I want some really new ideas.

Government must be based on geography.

This premise just came to mind, and immediately I began imagining a political system that one can subscribe to for a fee, regardless of location. This "government" could provide legal protection in the form of lawyers to defend subscribers from the actions of governments that are geographically-based. It could even provide police services (there are already more private security officers than public police in the U.S.), and courts to resolve civil and contractual disputes among members (private arbitration is a step in this direction that has already been a growing industry). Those who didn't abide by a subscription-government's rulings could have their membership or "citizenship" revoked.

Questions suggest answers. Want more answers? Ask more questions. Want better answers? Ask better questions. - Steve Gillman

A Simple Exercise

Think about each of the following four statements or situations, and write down the premises and assumptions that are either inherent in them or any that come to mind. Then work on challenging them to see what ideas result:

- We have to punish criminals to achieve justice.

- You are designing a new kind of bicycle.

- Democracy is promoted as a moral system.

- Free markets are the primary cause of our economic success.

By the way, recent research seriously challenges the latter assumption. I address this in my book 99 Lies, which is part of The Secrets Package.

Continues here...
How to Use New Perspectives

The Thousand Mile Hole

If you want to think more deeply and creatively, read this book. - Steve

It's available as a Kindle e-book here:

If you don't have a Kindle reader, you'll find a link there to a free version for use on your computer.

I have a website dedicated to the book, with excerpts and more, here:

the thousand mile hole .com

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