“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” (Albert Einstein)
Have you ever thought about the power of questions? We ask questions all the time but we probably don’t think much about doing it, or what impact our questions are having. There’s more to questions than simply choosing whether to use What, Where, Who, When, Which, How or Why? Good questions are what drives creativity, discovery and progress. But, I have a concern that our business culture and organisations do not encourage and reward behaviour that promotes good questions. Instead, our leaders and managers are expected to have ‘answers’ rather than questions and are expected to make decisions and fix problems. This drives our management cultures toward adopting an ‘advocacy’ rather than an ‘enquiry’ philosophy, reinforcing the expectations of the workforce and of the leaders themselves.
More than ever, we need ‘new thinking’, fresh paradigms, and questions that challenge the ‘way things have always been done’. Unfortunately, we don’t train people in the skill of constructing powerful questions, perhaps reinforced by the age-old ‘dogma’ that we pay people to come up with answers and solutions, not ask more questions. Of course this is short-sighted thinking, and it is time to value the power of questions and to invest in the development of this most important of skills.
So, what makes a question ‘powerful’? Here is a list proposed by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs, 2003, in “The art of powerful questions”.
- generate curiosity in the listener
- stimulate reflective conversation
- are thought-provoking
- surface underlying assumptions
- invite creativity and new possibilities
- generate energy and forward movement
- channel attention and focus inquiry
- stay with participants
- touch a deep meaning
- evokes more questions
A powerful question will also spread across networks of conversation, pervade organizations and communities, and are more often than not the catalyst for large-scale and transformational change.
Here are some examples of the types of questions that I believe have the power to shift thinking, tap in to people’s creativity, and open up possibilities that ‘more conventional’ ways of tackling issues may never discover.
- What question, if answered, could make the most difference to the future?
- What assumptions do we need to test or challenge here?
- What would someone who had a very different set of beliefs than we do say about this?
- What’s missing from this picture so far? What is it we’re not seeing? What do we need more clarity about?
- If there was one thing that hasn’t yet been said in order to reach a deeper level of understanding/clarity, what would that be?
- What conversation, if begun today, could ripple out in a way that created new possibilities?
All organizations, today more than ever, need people’s ‘best thinking’ to be surfaced and harnessed, in order to tackle the complex issues they face. Successful leaders will not be those who see their role as ‘having all the answers’. It will be those who are comfortable with not knowing, and who are prepared to role-model and encourage the art of powerful questioning throughout the organisation. In this way, the power and creativity of the entire workforce can be brought to bear on new possibilities, discoveries and deeper insight, helping to drive the change, continuous learning and curiosity culture that will mark out successful businesses in the future.
So, what’s your favourite question? It will be great if you leave a reply below with your favourite, and we’ll hopefully end up with a great shared pool of powerful questions.
If you want to unlock your potential and the potential of your team, Leadership Coaching, with powerful questioning techniques at its core, will help you and your people increase their own skill in the art of powerful questioning, discover more of what is possible, and improve the creativity and engagement within your business. Please do get in touch simply by submitting your details through the Contact Us page. I will be delighted to discuss further with you, and be pleased to talk about some taster sessions on a try before you buy basis.