People collaborating

How to Collaborate Better: Assumptions vs Solutions

When we collaborate with others, one pitfall is to devote a large chunk of time to argue about assumptions. Let me illustrate with the parable of Peter and Jane.

The Parable of Peter and Jane

Peter and Jane are discussing what gift to bring to Eugene’s 15th birthday party. They have a limited budget, so they only can buy one gift. They’ve known Eugene personally for years, but they differ on the present to give. Peter thinks that Eugene would love this new sci-fi action figurine, whilst Jane thinks that Eugene would prefer something practical like a calculator.

As they discuss, both find themselves at a strong disagreement with each other. Peter remarks that in conversation, Eugene could not stop mentioning about that action figure, hence they should buy it for him. Jane retorted saying during math class together, the teacher reprimanded Eugene for his outdated calculator, thus as friends they should buy him that calculator.

The conversation went on for another 2 hours. Both presented their best arguments on why they are right. Peter mentioned his chat history with Eugene and used sentiment analysis to prove his point. Jane contacted three other mutual friends and did interviews with them to provide qualitative evidence to prove her point. Nobody was willing to cave in.

Arguing Assumptions

I’m sure the parable strikes a chord.

From the illustration above, Peter and Jane were arguing about the assumptions, and they do so by throwing arguments and evidence to support their position. They are arguing about why their set of assumption is more “correct” then the other.

Arguing which assumption is “Correct”

I’m sure this situation is all too familiar. You’re in a meeting with two opposing parties that cannot agree on the assumption (Theoretically speaking, it’s also hard to prove assumptions). Quickly, the meeting devolves into a debate. Because nobody is willing to budge on their assumption.

I’ve observed this numerous times and here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to collaborating with others.

If you are not convinced by my assumptions initially, then probably you will not be convinced of my assumptions later on.

Some guy on the internet

There are exceptions, but I find the above to be the case.

Now, let me put forth a better way.

The Parable of Peter and Jane: the Sequel

Peter and Jane found themselves together again to buy a present to bring for Eugene 16th birthday party. The previous year, they could not get anything. Once again, they have a limited budget so they can only buy one present.

Foreseeing the same issue as last year, Jane proposed that instead of focusing of which one has the better present, they should try to get both presents.

Peter then suggested to search for online deals and asking a mutual friend to chip in to increase their budget. Jane agreed, and they got to work.

The time was on working towards the solution. They managed to get the present, and our fictional characters lived happily ever after (Until I invoke them the next time).

Collaborate Better by Discussing Solutions

The scenario didn’t change, but the process did.

Instead of arguing which assumption is correct, they assume that both is assumptions are correct. Less time is wasted in debating which assumption is true, the focus is on building the solution together.

Venn diagram that shows the intersection between the 2 set of assumptions is the item that you would like to discuss about.
The Venn diagram to highlight the intersection between both assumptions

As we can observe above, it’s about finding the intersection of all assumptions. The discussion is not predicated upon the “correctness” of the assumption, but the solution that can fit all assumptions.

Counter-intuitively, the quality of the solution is better as it would cater to more scenarios. This has been the case as I work in product management. Everybody might disagree on the assumption, but if everybody agrees on the solution, then the solution is able to cater to a wide range of perspective.

So, the next time when you find yourself disagreeing to an assumption. Agree to disagree but roll with it anyway.

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