What’s your favourite Question?

“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”.

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. Continue reading