reason 57

Reason is a monthly missive from the partners of Essex Two, a vertically integrated communication consultancy. We invite our readers to think in new ways about their business, their customers and the opportunities for meaningful communication between them. Joseph and Nancy Essex

Assumption, Assertion, Exaggeration: 2 of 2  From the mating characteristics of arthropods to Kaiser Wilhelm’s role in starting World War I to the correct number of sesame seeds on a Big Mac® bun — Cliff Clavin had the answer. The human equivalent of today’s Wikipedia®, the mailman character from the 1980s sitcom Cheers had an answer to every question.

Assertions, assumptions, and exaggerations are usually the result of some people trying to impress other people. With his crude and untenable assertions, Cliff Clavin only deludes himself. However, there are other reasons we all embrace similar delusions.

H. L. Mencken said, “There is a simple and easy answer to every question, and it is usually wrong.” He suggests it feels better to have an answer, any answer, even if it is wrong. By doing so we fulfill our subconscious need to control the unknown by making it knowable. On the other hand, it may be far better to have a clearly defined question than an inaccurate answer.

he delusions that are affirmed when assumptions replace facts create an environment which can breed disaster. When making decisions based on assumptions rather than facts it becomes impossible to predict the outcomes.

Knowing how much rain has fallen on every wheat field in every county in Kansas for the past 150 years won’t tell farmers how much rain will fall next year. Averages? Yes, but Kansas farmers have learned the hard way that even if the forecast is accurate, the rain may not fall evenly throughout the state or at the best times during the growing season. Information without a purpose is a shaft without wheat.

Many businesses manage their communication efforts, brand integrity, and marketing plans based on perceptions that are no longer accurate, and/or may never have been totally correct. Because of its perceived infallibility, research can suffer the same limitations and potential assumptions as other sources of information. No matter where it comes from or how much of it there is, information can only be meaningful when evaluated in the context of the questions asked.

Verifiable information, properly evaluated and measured against carefully defined questions, can only be accomplished within an environment where assumptions, assertions and exaggerations are left to fictional mailmen.

However, by moving from the lobby to the revolving door it would be possible to see a city sanitation vehicle that sweeps the streets and washes the gutters, has hit the drop-down door of a newspaper delivery van. Water from the truck is showering every passenger getting off the bus from the airport.

At Essex Two we ask the “dumb” questions — dumb in that the answers many seem obvious to those within an organization. Our dumb questions confirm information so we can better prepare its presentation to the client's audiences in ways that promote understanding and participation. Visit the Essex Two website for examples of how we have helped our clients achieve their communication goals.


NOT Worth your time:  Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, is filled with conclusions based on “facts” not yet in evidence. He suggests that the pace of technological innovation and proliferation has flattened the social and financial landscape between the haves and the have-not countries. This is akin to seeing a square, four-legged table on the diagonal, where the closest leg appears to cover the leg that is farthest away. It is only when weight is applied over that distant leg will we know if it is there or not. Depending on Friedman’s assertions would be rash.

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