After reading an interview with Marilee Adams, author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work, I began pondering her idea that all too often people jump to conclusions before they have the information necessary to make an informed decision. Complexity is part of business, and asking the right question is just as important as having the right answer.
According to Adams, founder of the Inquiry Institute and adjunct professor at the American University’s School of Public Affairs, “Without critical and strategic thinking impelled by good questions, people . . . jump to poor conclusions.” There are two common counterparts in the process of finding solutions: the judger and the learner. The judger looks for fault or failure, and the learner is curious and proposes open-ended questions. “Good questions” may not bring about an instant solution but they do serve to offer a larger perspective of the situation. For the learner, there is no such thing as too many open-ended questions. One might think that this approach leads to loss of time and productivity when the opposite is true: it leads to greater efficiency.
In business, people work together regardless of whether it is in-house or contracted, and they engage in problem solving, decision-making, and above all, collaboration. Adams notes that it is imperative to “change the tone of the team interaction by getting people to listen to each other and think creatively.” In so doing, I have seen at PRI and with our extended family of clients that no obstacle is too large, no question unaskable, and no solution unobtainable.
Two key elements of Adams’s far-reaching strategy is to “gain the courage to act by changing the questions you ask yourself,” and, participate in the “Q Storm.” The Q Storm is a fascinating concept Adams discusses in her book. When you develop as many questions as possible without worrying about the answers, it becomes a gateway to finding a solution. Even the silliest or most provoking questions can bring about a solution—particularly one previously not considered. Good questions promote thinking outside the box, and it is crucial. To be effective in business, one must never disregard the unexpected answer or question.
To paraphrase a key element that I feel sums up a solid strategy for finding a solution: Sometimes you just can’t get to the best answers without the best questions.
The following excerpt is from the Learner/Judger© mindset material presented in Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.
Marilee Adams’ Top 12 Questions for Success
Purpose: To offer a useful sequence of questions for thinking comprehensively before making a change or embarking on a new direction.
- What do I want?
- What are my choices?
- What assumptions am I making?
- What am I responsible for?
- How else can I think about this?
- What is the other person thinking, feeling, needing, or wanting?
- What am I missing or avoiding?
- What can I learn?
. . . from this person or situation?
. . . from this mistake or failure?
. . . from this success?
- What action steps make the most sense?
- What questions should I ask (myself or others)?
- How can I turn this into a win-win?
- What’s possible?