Does a fish see the water it swims in? Identifying the assumptions you’re swimming in


We’ve all done it – unwittingly made a big, fat assumption that we only realize much later clouds our thinking & our way forward.


See if you can determine what assumptions these parents are making as they try to free their kid, who’s managed to get his head stuck in their fence. Fast forward to 2:20 to see how & who identifies the assumption & opens the way to problem solving. It will more than likely surprise you.


Similarly here’s a case of when I made an erroneous assumption. See if you can determine what it was.


Scenario: I wept big, sloppy tears & my head ached, as I laid it down on my desk. I was inconsolable. Multiple deadlines converged & the only way from here to there was to plow through & do something I intensely dislike which is write program evaluation reports. Multiple program evaluation reports. (I’m shuddering even as I write this, years later.)

I had multiple contracts, all with the same damn deadline for the same damn reports.

I loved the evaluation design & data collection – especially when it came to engaging communities challenged by drug & alcohol abuse, incarceration, mental health issues, poverty, racism etc. Over the years I’d worked side by side with participants to create ways for them to have a direct voice in the evaluation.

Over the years we’d created colorful quilts, evocative oral stories & creative scrapbooks that told the story of their involvement in the client’s program- all of which went into the final report & formed a part of the official program evaluation.

But now it was that time of year again – time to write the three reports & my shoulders felt as heavy as the rock that had settled in my stomach.



Can you identify the assumption I was making?


When I called a friend & colleague & relayed my woes, she pointed this (now) obvious fact to me.


I’d assumed that I had to write the report. While the program funder did indeed need 3 reports from me (1 from each client), it didn’t have to be me who wrote them.


The next day I headed to the Canadian evaluation society who happened to be having a meeting. I asked the organizer if I could make an announcement, that I was looking for someone who loved to do data analysis & write evaluation reports. She quietly turned to me & said ‘I love to do both of those things.’


Cut to years later & I still get weak with relief at finding the yin to my yang. She loved everything about evaluation I disliked & vice versa. To this day if evaluation is part of a contract of mine, I bring her onboard. Working with her is like taking a deep drink from a sweet water well, after having gone parched for days.



UNmaking an arse out of you & me. How to identify pesky assumptions.


  1. Acknowledge that you’re definitely making assumptions: Does a fish see the water it swims in? Likely not. Assumptions are so big & so many we have a tough time seeing them.


  1. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague: The thing is (insert marque flashing lights here for emphasis) I likely wouldn’t have thought to go searching for a report writer/data analyzer / a strategic alliance / the yin to my yang, if my original colleague & dear friend hadn’t identified the erroneous assumption I was making (that I had to write the reports all on my own).


  1. Find a solution & then another & another: Assumptions tend to fall by the wayside when we continue looking for solutions to problems & when we go beyond the first solution that comes to mind.


  1. Practice amping up your creativity: There’s a direct link between identifying assumptions & increasing your creativity. Need some tips how? Check out last week’s post.



Assumptions can stop you in your tracks in all areas of your life – next time you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, whether it be trying to get through a hard work project, not knowing how to deal with a difficult colleague or boss, struggling to find a better balance between home and work or how to get your head unstuck from a fence – remember there is almost never only one solution to a problem.

Your turn. Take action.

  • April 20th is National High Five day #NH5D. Make it a goal to identify at least one assumption you’ve been making that is getting in the way of more creative, resilience building solutions & give yourself a high 5 when you do.
  • Feel free to comment below about the assumptions you’ve broken & how it went. I’d love to hear.

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3 Responses to “Does a fish see the water it swims in? Identifying the assumptions you’re swimming in”

  1. Michelle Pante Says:
    April 26th, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    It’s kind of magic that we can sometimes easily see the assumptions others are making yet not have that perspective in our own lives. Loved the video!

  2. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    April 26th, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    I loved the video too, mostly because I totally see my kid doing that when he was little. So glad it resonated with you. Here’s to the magic of seeing our own & other’s assumptions.

  3. The danger of a single story | Rock.Paper.Scissors.Blog Says:
    May 17th, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    […] Single stories make assumptions. A lot of assumptions – and assumptions can be problematic and get you stuck. […]

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