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  • Writer's pictureRob Macey

The Power of Great Questions



The world's greatest inventors, philosophers and entrepreneurs have always done it, and children do it daily. It's asking questions.


Questioning before leaping to solutions can lead to better insights. And insights are the valuable commodity that can shift default thinking and allow deeper exploration.


Think of the "5 Whys" sequence developed by Toyota Industries founder Sakichi Toyoda. Or even look to great scientists or philosophers as to first principles questioning or hypothesis framing.


But while questioning appears to be a natural behaviour (particularly in children) it appears to shut down into adulthood for many of us. Here's how you could run your next session to approach a wicked problem or strategic challenge:


Pick the problem


Focus on what really matters and write it down so it's clear. Engage a small group with cognitive diversity to generate the questions*. The rule here is simple: only questions to be developed, without commentary or speeches. To be more time efficient you could select the problem first and refine it before selecting your group.


* Here, cognitive diversity must naturally extend to other areas of diversity such as gender, how we identify, cultural and race. The most difficult problems typically don’t normally sit in a ‘diversity neutral zone’.


Build the questions


Allow 10 minutes for building questions in the group. 10 questions from each participant. Push back on solutions, ideas, commentary. You might consider De Bono's thinking hats concept here or similar. Ensure they relate back to the original problem you picked.


Select the questions that take you out of your comfort zone


Identify the questions that do this. You could use the 5 Whys process to build upon the ones you choose. You might employ different mental models to help you select those that unpack a new way of thinking. Hopefully, a path has opened that is different; and this sets the scene for a more focused consideration of your problem. What you're looking for here are those "ah ha" moments.


Test the questions


Take stock and check in with your group as to how they feel and think about the questions. Are they on target and do they relate to the original problem statement? Are they clearly framed, open questions? If so, keep them. If not, cull them.


Stay accountable


Of course, we need to solve things eventually. Once you've chosen your focus area then you'll need to remain accountable for the follow up actions to keep it alive.


The above phases should take about an hour if run efficiently.


Anyone who has been through an Investment Logic Mapping process will have seen some of this approach at play, and ILM processes are a good example of where disciplined questioning is used to really test thinking and drive better solution development.


In summary, better questioning can challenge default thinking, break down bias and encourage cognitive diversity.


Are we there yet?

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