Asking Great Questions Is Better Than Finding Simple Answers
People usually try to understand things in terms of what they already know. This is an inherent part of our minds pattern recognition and one of the main ways we associate new ideas and seek to sort new memories. The problem is ‘when all you have is a hammer, you’ll see everything as a nail’. The more shallow your thinking and appreciation of a situation is, the fewer mental tools you’ll have at your disposal to build upon what you already know. All real growth hides in previously unchartered locations so great questions are important tools you’ll need to help you get there.
Be careful of your creative words.
Be careful what you repeatedly say, as you might just be building a closed mindset that will lock you into a set of limiting beliefs. When you regularly answer, “I don’t know”, to a question your subconsciousness expresses its delight at not having to think about a solution for you — and doesn’t. A better choice of words may be, “I don’t know yet” or “I’m still figuring that out”. Here’s why.
Your subconscious thrives on puzzles and its job is to make sense of your day’s activities and store thoughts and ideas for later recall. To give it a reason to reduce its workload, is to waste the powerful skills of your unsleeping internal problem solver, called your subconscious. I regularly ask myself difficult questions about business processes just before I go to sleep only to find in the morning, my poor subconscious has been working on a solution whilst the rest of me slept.
Can’t resist a puzzle.
Open ended questions are an un-ignorable puzzle to the healthy mind. If you’re listening to an intriguing story or find yourself midway through an enthralling game, and are interrupted, we demand to know how they end. To leave such open ended questions without resolution both irritates and intrigues our minds. You often hear this in action when movie goers leaving a screening usually begin conversations with the words, “You can see they are leaving it open for a sequel…”. This same conversation about unresolved storylines continues online and a quick Google search for ‘unanswered questions from movies’ returns a current listing of over 9,180,000 additional conversations you can add your voice to.
Imagination is the process of creating through thinking. A really great question can keep you thinking for a lifetime but the scale of the question is not the goal. The process of discovery is always greater than the answer. Developing an appreciation of the question (and not so much arriving at a quick fix answer) is the insightful process that you are seeking to grow.
Not knowing the answer makes you smarter.
Not knowing the answer to a question immediately increases your knowledge and connects you back to the real world. Like the challenge of finding your purpose in life, not knowing what it is and beginning the search triggers growth and development. One of my personal questions that often keeps me awake at night is, “How can I give away more money than I could possibly make?’. It’s not a trick question – it’s one that I am building an answer to that supports my purpose. What’s one of your great questions? Remember they must be bigger than your quick fix answers.
Jacob asks the best questions.
My friend and client Jacob Watkins is a high performance management consultant with a keen ability to ask telling questions. An insightful and clever professional now working with PWC in London, Jacobs generation began in the 1980s and are known as Gen Y. He spent his early career consulting to high level and strategic management teams working in the Australian mining industry. A keen student of the philosophy of human motivation and with a vice like grip on the approach taken in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Jacob unconsciously lives his reflective questioning skills in every enjoyable conversation I get to have with him. His questions spark more questions and on the road to their answers, clarity becomes the real outcome.
The Kobayashi Maru.
During one of our conversations over coffee in Sydney’s famous Queen Victoria Building, Jacob recalled a previous project where he and his team had designed a two day training session to test strategic thinking and preparedness by posing a set of problems to the course participants that were beyond what they had ever experienced before. The medium for this potentially embolism triggering process commenced on the afternoon of day one where it was announced that every course participant had failed their assessment and as a direct result had triggered an event that if not resolved with 24 hours would result in a very public, unrecoverable business catastrophe.
So began the 24 hour countdown for the participant’s commercial survival. Now at that point, even my mind yearned to know how the story ended! Thankfully more details came over the second round of coffees at our afternoon chat. In the words of Captain Kirk from the Starship Enterprise, this was indeed a Kobayashi Maru scenario, one deliberately orchestrated to be unwinnable. Only the questions it generated were greater than the answer.
So what can I do now?
Embrace what you don’t know and seek the bigger questions rather than quick fix answers that come from your current expertise and experience. Becoming a good questioner can help transform the fear of the unknown into an appreciation of the adventure and opportunities that it can produce. Big questions help us add meaning to our lives and clarity to our purpose.
Choose to approach every new situation with what the Japanese call shoshin or when translated, beginner’s mind. The easiest way to do this is to stay curious. When you reach the natural end of a conversation with someone you don’t know or on a topic that you are unfamiliar with – don’t look for a speedy exit or escape back to the world of comfort and predictability where you are the expert. Try to ask questions to keep the conversation going and see what you can learn about them and yourself. Stay curious.
Making the most of what you’ve been given.
A commitment to continued growth is a commitment to building a future that is brighter than your past. Aligning your behaviour with these habits will ensure that your feelings will not get the better of you and hijack your plans. But it also places the responsibility of growth squarely on your own shoulders.
The desire to grow is nothing less than a love of life itself and what greater gift could you give yourself, and those that love and support you, than that.
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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