Queen of Questions

“The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.”         – Peter Drucker.

From young we learn the value of the right Answer. Questions are the domain of authority, they are posed by parents, educators and later in life bosses. We spend a large part of early life learning the Answers to Questions, preparing ourselves for the highest level of Questions and Answers: Examinations. The average new recruit has had to pass more than 500 significant tests to get into their chosen career. This pre-ocuppation with Test and Answers creates an Answer Culture which we carry with us into life. Once in the business world, we continue to fear difficult Questions.

ALBERT EINSTEIN famously proclaimed:

“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.”

What Einstein appreciated, was that:  only through good Questions can we understand a problem. Our Answer culture creates a bias, a bias that causes us to underestimate the value of Questions.

The primary role of Questions is to challenge assumptions:

  • WHY.. do we do things this way?
  • WHY NOT.. why don’t we do things another way?
  • HOW MIGHT WE… make thing better, fun, simpler ?
  • WHAT IF…we did something different?

These simple questions grant us the ability to create a powerful discovery around the problem being faced and open us up to discover new possibilites. Marcel Proust the French Author puts discovery in perspective, he says:

“ The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but seeing with new eyes”.

Questions help us see with new eyes. A powerful Question:

  • Generates curiosity in the listener
  • Stimulates reflective conversation
  • Is thought-provoking
  • Surfaces underlying assumptions
  • Generates energy and forward movement
  • Channels attention and focuses inquiry
  • Stays with participants
  • Touches a deep meaning
  • Evokes more questions
  • and ultimately Invites Creativity and new Possibilities.
It’s through asking many thought-provoking questions about the presenting problem that we have sufficient understanding to then formulate the final and Queen of Innovation Questions, the HOW MIGHT WE question.
A HMW (HOW MIGHT WE) question when crafted well holds two things:
  1. An understanding of the underlying problem AND
  2. Opens the door to where the answer might lie (provides direction).
A good HMW statement should enliven your brain and start ideas flowing. A weak HMW statement, feels heavy and leaves you firmly in problem territory with no doors to the solution.
Examples of good HMW statements:
  • How might we make the bus ride more enjoyable?
  • How might we integrate nutritional supplements into our daily meals?
  • How might we make drinking water more habitual?
  • How might we make floor cleaning require less effort?
By adopting a Question rather than Answer Culture, you accept that there is little celebration in knowing the Answers to poor Questions but rather embrace the discomfort and potential of a lingering Provocative Question.
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