The most important thing business leaders must do today is to be the ‘chief question-asker’ for their organization.
– Dev Patnaik
Patnaik is quick to add, “The first thing most leaders need to realize is, they’re really bad at asking questions.”
A questioning culture is critical because it can help ensure that creativity and fresh, adaptive thinking flows throughout the organization.
By asking questions, we can analyze, learn, and move forward in the face of uncertainty. However, the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of complexity or enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.
Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas, and ideas lead to making things better.
Questions are powerful means to employ (read unleash) creative potential – potential that would otherwise go untapped and undiscovered.
THE QUICK SUMMARY – A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger
In this groundbreaking book, journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger shows that one of the most powerful forces for igniting change in business and in our daily lives is a simple, under-appreciated tool–one that has been available to us since childhood. Questioning—deeply, imaginatively, “beautifully”–can help us identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities. So why are we often reluctant to ask “Why?”
Berger’s surprising findings reveal that even though children start out asking hundreds of questions a day, questioning “falls off a cliff” as kids enter school. In an education and business culture devised to reward rote answers over challenging inquiry, questioning isn’t encouraged–and, in fact, is sometimes barely tolerated.
And yet, as Berger shows, the most creative, successful people tend to be expert questioners. They’ve mastered the art of inquiry, raising questions no one else is asking–and finding powerful answers. The author takes us inside red-hot businesses like Google, Netflix, IDEO, and Airbnb to show how questioning is baked into their organizational DNA. He also shares inspiring stories of artists, teachers, entrepreneurs, basement tinkerers, and social activists who changed their lives and the world around them–by starting with a “beautiful question.”
A SIMPLE SOLUTION
With the constant change we face today, we may be forced to spend less time on autopilot, more time in questioning mode—attempting to adapt, looking to re-create careers, redefining old ideas about living, working, and retiring, reexamining priorities, seeking new ways to be creative, or to solve various problems in our own lives or the lives of others.
When we want to shake things up and instigate change, it’s necessary to break free of familiar thought patterns and easy assumptions.
We need to learn to ask beautiful questions.
A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.
The nonprofit sector, like much of industry, is inclined to keep doing what it has done—hence, well-meaning people are often trying to solve a problem by answering the wrong question.
People tend to approach and work through problems – processing from becoming aware of and understanding the problem, to thinking of possible solutions, to trying to enact those solutions. Each stage of the problem solving process has distinct challenges and issues—requiring a different mind-set, along with different types of questions. Expertise is helpful at certain points, not so helpful at others; wide-open, unfettered divergent thinking is critical at one stage, discipline and focus is called for at another. By thinking of questioning and problem solving in a more structured way, we can remind ourselves to shift approaches, change tools, and adjust our questions according to which stage we’re entering.
The Why stage has to do with seeing and understanding. The “seeing” part of that might seem easy – just open your eyes and look around, right? Not really. To ask powerful Why questions, we must:
Notice what others miss.
Challenge assumptions (including our own).
Gain a deeper understanding of the situation or problem at hand, through contextual inquiry.
Question the questions we’re asking.
Take ownership of a particular question.
The What If stage is the blue-sky moment of questioning, when anything is possible. Those possibilities may not survive the more practical How Stage; but t’s critical to innovation that there be a time for wild, improbable ideas to surface and to inspire. If the word why has a penetrative power, enabling the questioner to get past assumptions and dig deep into problems, the words what if have a more expansive effect – allowing us to think without limits or constraints, firing the imagination.
The How stage of questions is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the point at which things come together and then, more often than not, fall apart, repeatedly. Reality intrudes and nothing goes quite as planned. to say it’s the hard part of questioning is not to suggest it’s easy to challenge assumptions by asking Why, or to envision new possibilities by asking What If. Those require difficult backward steps and leaps of imagination. But How tends to be more of a slow and difficult march, marked by failures that are alley to be beneficial – but don’t necessarily seem that way at the time.
A NEXT STEP
According to author Warren Berger, when it comes to questioning, companies are like people: They start out doing it, then gradually do it less and less. A hierarchy forms, a methodology is established, and rules are set; after that, what is there to question?
In A More Beautiful Question, Berger lists a series of questions from consultant Keith Yamashita that leaders should consider. To arrive at a powerful sense of purpose, Yamashita says, organizations today need “a fundamental orientation that is outward looking”—so they can understand what people out there in the world desire and need, and what’s standing in the way. At the same time, leaders also must look inward, to clarify their core values and larger ambitions.
At a future team meeting, ask the following questions, and record all answers.
- How is our mission best expressed in everyday life?
- Which of our values are most relevant in this season? Which of our values is most aspirational?
- What ministry or program is having the most impact? Which is having the least? Why?
- What area of spiritual growth is most underdeveloped among our body?
- What are we most excited about in the next year?
- What is most important in the next 90 days?
- What do we want to celebrate five years from now?
- How will the results of this exercise change the direction of your organization?