In the beginning you had a theory, “if I do this … then, I’ll have this …”
But the email marketing campaign wasn’t as successful as you expected, free giveaways of your new product didn’t bring many bright reviews, the list building strategy failed, or another project exceeded its budget.
When we begin to analyze such results, we tend to think in terms of “errors”. What was wrong? Which factors played the most crucial roles in these undesirable outcomes? Observations are made, conclusions are drawn. And based on them, we decide to take new actions, like “I tried this marketing tactic and it didn’t work, let’s try this one now and see”.
This is the type of feedback we give ourselves most of the time. You do something, look at the consequences, draw conclusions and develop a new action plan. If you are also someone who learns this way, then you are in “single loop learning”, as psychologists call it.
Single loop learning can actually be very fast. By putting new actions into practice immediately after observing bad results, we can test new things in a short time. That said, if after many trials we’re still far from the desired outcome, maybe it’s time to add a new dimension to our feedback loop.
This dimension is our assumptions and the rules and guidelines that we choose to follow when we get off the ground. In order to proceed with any project, we inevitably assume things. We choose a process to follow, apply specific tools and techniques, prefer to partner with one person more than others, because we assume that these choices will help us reach our goals. When reflecting on your outcomes, if you take such assumptions into account, you’re in “double loop learning”.
Double loop learning was developed by Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, and it was originally designed for organizations to make improved decisions. But it goes without saying that small business owners and solopreneurs can benefit from it just as much.
The key idea is to challenge your assumptions to make better decisions. Assumption is an umbrella term. It includes core beliefs, values, rules, guidelines and all the other principles and standards that you set as a guide at the beginning of your project.
Here are the promised three steps:
#1 List your initial assumptions and check for consistency
What did you believe, think, trust initially that made you think you’d achieve your goal? List all of the assumptions.
Then, check for consistency. Go over your list, take each assumption in turn and think about whether you really did what you intended to do. What did you assume at the beginning and what did you execute at the end? Also, consider that underlying guidelines must always be relevant to your goals. Are there principles that don’t actually count as far as your targets are concerned? This is an important step because it has the potential to uncover which standards should be modified or even removed from the project.
#2 Explore your assumptions more deeply
Prepare a list of questions, especially ones that start with “why” and “how”. These types of questions help you see the relationships better, which is why they can uncover hidden beliefs, values and mindsets that affect the process negatively.
While looking for ways to understand your assumptions better, try free writing too. Take a piece of paper and write what you think about them for a few minutes without stopping.
Based on your new observations, identify which rules or guidelines should be kept as they are, which ones must be eliminated completely, and which assumptions need modification.
After identifying which assumptions harm your project the most, you can employ another technique to challenge them further. The technique is called the reversal method. Reverse each assumption and ponder whether the opposite makes sense, and if so how you can execute it.
#3 Develop a new action plan
Now summarize the new insights you gained after examining your assumptions. Did you discover thought patterns which restrict you? Craft a new action plan. Share it with people you trust, join a mastermind group, ask for opinions. After this kind of self-reflection activity, it’s important to listen to other views and exchange experiences.