Whenever we plan for the future, we always have to make assumptions.  We make assumptions about the weather when we go on a picnic or skiing.  We make assumptions about prices when we go to the store and decide to buy the asparagus (is it lower here or at another store?).  We make assumptions when we meet new people (“They look like a nice couple”).  We make assumptions when we make business decisions (Tomorrow will be like today, or last week, or last year, etc.)

It’s not bad to make assumptions– we couldn’t function if we didn’t make assumptions.  The problem comes when we stretch the assumptions too far or make too many assumptions.  Years ago,the space shuttle Challenger went up in flames and everyone on board died because managers assumed that everything would work just fine at cold temperatures. But the O-rings sealing the solid boosters didn’t – and the result was destruction. 
The solution to too many assumptions or pushing them too far is be validate them as quickly as possible.  You validate by asking questions and GETTING ANSWERS.  The answers don’t have to be precise or exact – they just have to tell you if you’re reasonable.  And the more questions you ask and get answers to, the better your plans will be.
For example, I was speaking with someone who was interested in opening a fast food restaurant.  They wanted to know what amount of business they could do.  The national company was willing to sell them information about sales and the amount of traffic, but it won’t have been tailored to the location they were thinking about.  Instead, I suggested that they go and spend a day sitting in similar restaurants in the same part of town and simply keep count of how many customers came through the restaurant and the drive-thru window.  If they could also estimate the amount of each sale, then they would have a very complete picture of what business volume was in their specific area. They could assume – or they could ask questions and get answers.
Asking questions, gathering and analyzing information, then using it to estimate for your conditions eliminates a lot of guesswork.  And it’s a lot cheaper than operating off of assumptions.  If you think you have a great answer, then talk to your potential customers and find out if it really is great – for them.
Several years ago, I had a client who had an idea, quit her job, spent $20K of her own money and launch a new product – only to find out that no one wanted to buy her product.  She had made assumptions that could have been easily been verified if she had only asked her potential buyers before she quit her job and spent her savings.
Remember that it’s a lot less expensive to ask questions before the disaster than after.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.