If there was one thing, I learned in my creative thinking classes during my entrepreneurship and innovation studies, was the power of inquiry. Asking questions is the key to solving problems and asking the right question at the right time is not only a skill but a discipline which can be and should be followed by anyone of us. In a room of creative innovators, “what if?” is a beautiful question.
Seek questions not answers and seek questions from different perspectives. My observation in class and in the boardrooms, is that when faced with a problem or task, most people begin searching for answers, if not “the answer”, and unfortunately that is almost always disguised as a brainstorming session or using some kind of method like 6 Hats without any rigour, self-assessment, or evaluation.
Sometimes people do begin with questions, but often with the wrong one, or worse, the only one. How many times is a problem presented and the question inevitably is “How?”, often revealing a search for an immediate answer or answers.
Peter Drucker is known for saying: “There’s nothing more dangerous than the right answer to the wrong question.”
Ask the right question and set up an environment that encourages questions – the right questions!
In the book, “How we make up our minds” by Dr. Colin Benjamin, we get an insight into the process of thinking, and delve into previous knowledge from Hofstede and Trompenaars cultural dimensions, Dr. Edward de Bono Six Thinking Hats and Six Action Shoes, and look at a unique 16 colour grid process our minds calls on to reduce complexity and construct clear pathways to progress, in times of rapid change, increasing turbulence and uncertainty in business and in our private lives. The 16 squares grid begin with a question, which best touches on what that particular perspective of frame of mind sees the problem and is approaching the solution.
The key is to ask better questions to get to better outcomes. In every situation we should seek to identify the What, Why, Where, Who, Which, When, and How?
Can you see that by just simply jumping to the “How?”, you will miss a lot of relevant exploration on any issue, which could lead you to the wrong decision?
There is a sequence of specific questions (in two trains of thoughts) which will help any team make better decisions:
- What is this? (CAN)
- What does it matter? (IF)
- What else may emerge? (MAY)
- What problems does this solve? (THEN/WHEN)
- What’s changed for the better? (COULD)
- What are the core elements? (IF ONLY/ONLY IF)
- What are the risks vs returns? (WHICH)
- What has to be done? (MUST)
- What are others going to do? (NOW)
- What should be done? (SHOULD)
- What is to be learned from this? (HOW)
- What will happen next? (WILL)
The strategic thinking can create a window of opportunity:
- What’s developing? (BEGINNINGS)
- What’s growing? (MIDDLE)
- Where will this finish up? (ENDS)
- What are the handovers? (NEXT GEN)