Check Your Assumptions

Rummaging through a drawerful of research information and other interesting tidbits of knowledge I’ve collected, I rediscovered a business card-sized handout from a Joel Barker seminar about paradigms. 

The little card reminded me that paradigms are the beliefs, assumptions, thinking patterns, and typical practices with which we interpret our world. They form frames of reference that people, businesses, governments, and other organizations use in order to function efficiently, and they affect how we process information. 

Paradigms guide how individuals and organizations approach living and business. They operate pretty much automatically and reflect the assumptions and beliefs of an organization. 

For example, one rental company’s paradigm might say that customers want the most reliable equipment, while another believes they want the cheapest, and a third company’s paradigm says customers want the best field support. 

In each case, the paradigm steers the organization’s focus, structure, and functioning toward doing what it deems most important. 

Paradigms’ automatic and understood nature is their strength. It is also their danger. Unless an organization makes a conscious effort to look frequently at its paradigms and their underlying assumptions, it may operate on outdated beliefs long after reality has changed. So make sure you check your paradigms and the assumptions that guide them. 

Neglecting to do so can be particularly dangerous when you operate in an industry where technology advances at near-lightning speed and reality can change in months. 

For example, lifting equipment control systems have advanced a lot in the past few years, with computerization and telematics allowing better monitoring and troubleshooting. Also more efficient power systems have boosted both performance and efficiency. 

One article in the January-February 2016 edition of Lift and Access looks at a new 60-ft. articulating boom lift that operates on batteries, yet functions as quickly and travels as powerfully as one driven by an internalcombustion engine. 

A second article explains how a new family of telehandlers delivers the performance of a 110- hp machine while using a 74-hp engine. The lower-horsepower machine’s top travel speed is a few miles per hour slower than the higher-horsepower rig’s, but the 74-hp unit meets emission standards without complex exhaust treatment. 

Equipment users whose paradigm says that battery-powered equipment cannot match the performance of internal-combustion machines, or that a rig with a less-powerful engine cannot keep up with one that has more horsepower may miss out on equipment that could help their bottom lines. 

Similarly, companies that believe safety is an expensive, legally required nuisance that only slows down work, may miss the chance to develop effective safety programs that actually improve productivity while lowering insurance premiums. 

Check your paradigms and their underlying assumptions frequently. It will help keep your operation in touch with current conditions. 

Here is a key thought from that Barker seminar: “The past guarantees you nothing in the future if the rules change.” Make sure you’re playing by the current rules, and, ideally, foreseeing future changes so you have time to adjust.

About the Author: 

Mike Larson

Mike Larson has been writing about heavy equipment and construction for more than 25 years. He joined Heartland Communications Group in 2011 as editor of Lift and Access. During his career, he has edited Western Builder and Midwest Construction, and has been a regular contributor to Engineering News-Record and Constructor magazines. Larson also worked in and managed marketing communications for Manitowoc Cranes. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.