Ladies' Launchpad / Kathy McShane

We all bring our own set of assumptions to every situation.

Much of this has to do with our background, education, culture and position within an organization. However, I have found over the years to concentrate on the first three letters of the word: assumption. This reminds me to be careful.

Be clear in identifying or outlining your assumptions so that people, with whom you are interacting, will understand them and can take them into consideration when talking with you.

Recently, I asked the director of marketing of a company if the research she was undertaking was qualitative or quantitative. I asked this question because I knew that the research company she hired did not do qualitative research. I assumed she knew this, so I was surprised she had hired them. In fact, she didn't know that and therefore did not understand the purpose of my question. I made a wrong assumption. I should have restated the question differently or simply asked why she had hired this group.

The flip side of that equation is simply accepting assumptions. There are so many success stories about what happens when assumptions that have been around for years are challenged. Here are a few examples:

Apple challenged the assumption that a personal computer was functional and not aesthetic. It realized the importance of an emotional rather than functional sell.

The NFL questioned its long-held assumption that its fan base was men. It discovered that 43 percent of the base is women. Now, the NFL has a product line geared toward women.

The most beer consumed in the U.S. is on St. Patrick's Day. The Czeck Republic consumes the most beer regardless of what day it is.

The assumption is that women are not competitive. They simply like to compete in teams, not individually.

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A widely held assumption is that women don't buy cars or computers. More than 50 percent of "traditionally male" products are purchased by women. In fact, women are more likely than men to ask questions about a car's accident history, safety performance and functionality.

Assumptions are there to be challenged and you should do so. It can open up tremendous market opportunities for new products and services or lead to the re-positioning of existing ones.

Kathy McShane is managing director of Ladies Who Launch, Connecticut. She can be reached at or