This is a guest post from my good friend Loren Paulsson. One of Loren’s greatest gifts is the ability to ask piercingly insightful questions. If you present any problem to him, whether business or personal, he invariably responds with a question that strikes the very heart of the matter.
The ability to ask skillful questions should be an art that is practiced and honed by any Idea Builder. In this area, we can all learn much from Loren.
In their book, “Getting to Plan B,” John Mullins and Randy Komisar approach business planning as a continuous experiment.
Instead of penciling out expectations, they recommend sketching a model and then observing organizations who’ve tried what planners want to do—“analogues”—and organizations planners want to distinguish themselves from—“antilogues.” Planners are then ready to recognize the parts of their model that haven’t been tested—their “leaps of faith.”
The key to the whole adaptive process is taking the opportunities to notice what we don’t know.
Ask as many “why” questions and “who” questions and “how” questions and “what” questions as you can imagine. When you’re talking to yourself, these questions help you avoid oversimplifying things. When you’re talking to someone else, these questions give others a chance to answer in their own words, which will give you insights you would miss otherwise.
Avoid yes-or-no questions. And don’t make statements in order to have others validate them. Neither of these approaches yield much new information.
Be careful with causality
Because our minds are good at recognizing patterns, sometimes we mistake coincidence for causality. In their book, “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense,” Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton discuss three common ways business people go astray—(1) imitating others without considering differences in situation and without identifying whether the observed differences account for the desired results, (2) going with what seemed to work in the past without understanding why it worked, (3) unexamined ideological commitments.
Ask yourself whether you can articulate how one thing causes another or whether you just assume they go together. How might you test the idea?
Even the most perceptive of us need others—especially others from different backgrounds. Other people are the ultimate renewable source of perspective.
First, make other people a part of the decision making process, not just sources of advice or approval. Recognize what areas your instincts aren’t sharp in, and find others on whom you can depend. Thomas Edison was a good inventor, but it’s unlikely he could have achieved so much without the team he assembled.
Second, never punish the person who brings you bad news. Thank them, and focus on solving the problem, not assigning blame.
We will dig further into this idea in the next post. What are some other processes that might help us question our assumptions?
About Loren Paulsson
Loren works as a content strategist, drawing on his journalism background and a little bit of natural curiosity to help clients craft blog posts…or books…that build trust and integrate with the client’s online and social media strategy.