When what worked, isn’t working.
Updated: Jul 16
I recently discovered the TV show Curious Traveler. The show starts with a series of questions the host, Christine van Blokland, wonders before traveling to the destination. Her questions provide structure for the show’s content.
Blokland’s strategy: Pick a destination, list questions, map out an itinerary to go places to answer them, and produce a show that answers the questions. Brilliant!
Maybe you’re not out to create a travel show, but I’m guessing that you have a destination in mind, a goal you are working towards. And you’re probably encountering some challenges that are preventing you from achieving the goal.
Perhaps generating more ideas and solutions worked in the past, but isn’t working this time.
What if, like Blokland, you brainstormed questions instead of solutions?
Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, and author of Questions are the Answer, along with Clayton Christensen and Jeff Dyer identified 5 qualities of an innovative leader.
Questioning was one of five discovery skills that separated ordinary and extraordinary innovative leaders. Gregersen’s theory is that questions unlock false assumptions and help us re-frame our challenges.
Gregersen created an exercise called the Question Burst™. Here’s how it works:
1. Make a list of challenges you are facing.
2. Choose one to focus on.
3. Write down how you feel about the challenge.
4. List questions you have about that challenge (give yourself 4 minutes).
(Don’t answer or try to explain the questions, just write them as they come.)
5. Reflect on these questions:
· How do you feel about the challenge?
· Which questions deserve further inquiry?
· How has your perspective on the challenge changed?
· What might be your next step to solve that challenge?
In Creative Thinking workshops that I facilitate, I often quote Charles Ketterling, former Head of Research at GM, who said, “A problem well defined is a problem half solved.”
When we are problem solving, oftentimes we have an inadequate understanding of what we are trying to solve. We feel under pressure. We rush. Essentially, we jump to finding solutions too quickly.
Peter Drucker says it this way, “There’s nothing quite as dangerous as the right answer to the wrong question…The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, but to find the right questions.”
Here’s my challenge to you. Take 10 minutes, right now. Choose a challenge. Write how you feel about the challenge. List questions. Let it simmer. Then ask yourself the reflect questions.
When you do, I hope you experience what composer and musician Michael Card sings about in the song Could it Be: “Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do.”
*Bonus challenge! Do the Question Burst™ activity with 2-4 other people. Invite people who are not close to the problem; oftentimes they have the perspective you need. If the problem is large, challenge yourself to come up with at least 75 questions.