The dangers of assumptions: Often things aren’t quite what they seem to be

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In the most recent post, I related to a problem of perceived betrayal of trust by someone who I and one of my colleagues had spoken with extensively as we prepared to launch Ontario Construction News. We discovered he had instead contracted with a new (and surprise) competitor, and I felt that we had failed in controlling our communication, and the individual had failed in his ethics.

Oh, but the story isn’t quite what it seemed to be.

I am going to be somewhat cryptic here as I don’t think it is healthy to name everything and everyone in public, but a few days ago I had a fascinating email exchange with the individual who stated he was the real person behind the competitive action. And, as I peered into the activities, it seems the competitive response was not so much directed against our initiative, but that of the original publishing monopoly holder, who had certainly soured in relationships with the actual competitor.

Nevertheless, while this individual provided some frank insights into the now three-way competition environment, I can’t say our communication was all love and roses. We ARE competitors, after all, and competitors aren’t supposed to be friendly to each other — in fact, if you look at competition and anti-trust rules, we aren’t ever supposed to ever get too cosy!

These developments correlated with the Ontario Construction News achieving its highest volume sales in a single day since we launched the publication on May 1. Part of this volume is seasonal — as contractors close out jobs in the fall, volume spikes for the legal ads meant to mark the end of the projects (and to facilitate the clearance of holdback under provincial lien rules). Still it was fun to see the orders flowing in and realize we had indeed succeeded in creating our monopoly-busting business from scratch.

We may face a three-way competitive battle in the months ahead, but the numbers seem to indicate we’ll do quite well, regardless.

However, my mis-assumption about an individual’s trust betrayal reminds me that we should always be careful about assumptions, especially in conflict situations where we have limited access and communications capacities. Certainly huge business mistakes can be made, and with our emotions running high, we may be tempted to respond in harmful manners.

A good rule of thumb is, if the news is negative, and the facts seem to add up in that there is something wrong, certainly it is important to face this information and devise strategies to deal with it. But it is also important to draw lines between factual knowledge and extrapolative assumptions. There is a very good chance they will be incorrect.

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