Better answers require better questions

Better answers require better questions

At times I’ve been surprised by an answer. It’s not what I was expecting, sometimes with farcical results. Other times I’m left with a sense of an unsatisfactory half-response. There is something more, but I don’t know where to go next.

The problem is we think we know what we’re asking. We assume our questions are good enough because they make sense to us. However, our intention can get distorted in transmission. Therefore our worldview remains the same and we are oblivious to what we don’t know.

This issue has resurfaced for me this week as I’ve been designing a team development programme for a client. They want to think and work better, and have a greater impact on their end clients. More of the same isn’t enough and they want to add real value.

I know that preparation is everything.

Time well spent

Some recently published work has encouraged me in this quest for more energising and fruitful questions.

Hunch from Bernadette Jiwa is a brilliant little book that skilfully opens up intuition and insights as the means to look for ‘the next big thing’. Published on 1st June, Bernadette is a recognised global authority on the role of story in business. Her work has impacted many and we certainly benefit personally. 

How You Define The Problem Determines Whether You Solve It  was an inspiring Harvard Business Review post from Art Markman on 6th June. As a professor of psychology and marketing, he has insights into how we think and generate innovation. He underlines the need to redefine or reframe the problem. Not just telling people to think outside of the box, but giving them a different box altogether.

Both of these well written and wise offerings help us approach the task of fresh thinking from a different starting point. How can we stimulate curiosity, empathy and imagination by the questions we ask? What will it take to look at the issue with a completely different focus so that we define the problem differently?

Interestingly, Einstein is reported to have said:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I would solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.”Einstein

Even if he didn’t say these exact words, the sentiment rings true. However, in our era of quick online searches – which provide prompts so we don’t have to think too precisely – we’ve lost the art of framing powerful, beautiful questions.

Back to my earlier task. I realised that the key to this particular team’s development wasn’t about asking lots of questions. It was taking the time to carefully craft a few, apparently simple, questions that would propel them on a much more profound quest, going way beyond gathering data.

What calibre of solution do you need?

Less is more – and requires the development of skill and determination. But the fruit is definitely worth it if we want real change.

What questions are you asking? Are they worthy of the answers you are seeking?

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