1. The Answer is in the Question

    by Remo Nuzzolese

    The ability to solve a problem, clarify a situation or simply have a productive conversation relies heavily in the questions we ask ourselves or our collaborators. Depending on the starting point we choose we might frame the problem in the wrong way, encourage openness and honesty, or miserably fail in obtaining what we want to know. We could get the facts or get lost in useless information never getting to the point that we are interested in.

    Here is a little reminder about how to start a question to get exactly what we want from ourselves and others.

    What?, Who?, When?, Where? These are fact based question starters, they will give you information as perceived by the respondent. Great journalists wield these questions with incredible precision.

    Why? An answer to this question might tell you about the inner motivations, or higher principles, according to one’s character. Do not use Why? if you need the facts. Use it if you want to encourage people to tell something more about themselves.

    Can? Typical example of when not to use a question at all: If you want someone to do something, don’t ask them if they can. Tell them.

    Should? Speaking of guilt… This little word is loaded with needs and “have to’s”, it’s not very empowering from the receiving end.

    Would? Again, use with caution: the answer to that question might be: “No, thanks!”.

    How to? What might be all the ways? These are some typical open-ended questions. These starters will help you create many possibilities. They assume that there are many ways to solve a problem, tricking the mind to find them all, one by one.

    So, use your question starters in a smart way. The answer might be right in front of you, but you need the right question to grab it!

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    Posted: 1 year ago
  2. If you learn one thing, learn this…

    Paul’s Style

    “What if we held our advisory board meeting in the warehouse?” I suggest.

    “No,” Paul says.

    “Well, hear me out.  It is a large enough space to fit everyone comfortably. It would fit within our budget for the meeting, it would give board members a chance tour the plant, and we could set up the warehouse floor with comfortable table and chairs, flipcharts and a projector.”

    “Look, there’s too much liability, not everyone on the advisory board is interested in touring the plant, it’s going to be too hard to organize, and we’ve never done that before,” he interrupts and shoots down my idea.

    Our advisory board is meeting for a business strategy review, our office has no conference room, and we are working within a tight budget.  We would normally host the meeting at the CEO’s summer cottage in the stately dining room, but that option isn’t available this year.

    “We can always hold it at the Holiday Inn near the airport,” Alex suggests.

    “That’s a decent plan B,” Paul says.

    The weeks go by and we eventually settle on Paul’s Plan B because we have no Plan A. Meetings were always like that.  Someone would put forth an idea, and Paul would judge it within seconds, and it left all of us either discouraged or defensive. After enough meetings, this process (generate idea, judge it, generate another idea, judge it….) was internalized.  I’d come up with an idea and judge it in my mind, without ever sharing it with someone else. Things were different with Alyssa.

    Alyssa’s Style

    “Hey, what if we held our meeting in the warehouse?” I suggest.

    “Hm…I bet people would find the change of scenery stimulating,” Alyssa replies.

    “Yeah, and we could finally get everyone out to the plant for a guided walkthrough. Maybe the plant manager could give the tour,” Alex suggests.

    “There’s no A/V setup in the warehouse. And no whiteboards. It’s not going to work,” Paul says.

    “Well, we can overcome that.  We could just use a portable flipchart and bring a projector in just like at the summer cottage.” Alyssa says.

    Alyssa’s way of nurturing ideas brought our creativity to life.  Even Paul’s criticism was used to improve and strengthen the idea.  Alyssa had a patience and positivity that allowed ideas to flourish. 

    We’ve All Been There

    We are excited by an idea we’ve come up with. Then we share it with a colleague or supervisor and they shoot it down without a second thought. They run off five or six reasons why it’s too ambitious, or too difficult, or too weird. We react either by becoming defensive (in which case we reject feedback entirely) or by letting the criticism discourage us and we drop the idea all together.

    The Most Common Mistake

    The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to generate ideas and evaluate them at the same time. Ideas are not born fully formed. Fledgling ideas must be nurtured into powerful solutions. When we strike down ideas immediately, we aren’t giving these ideas a chance to change or grow; we are, in fact, killing baby ideas.

    What happens when we kill baby ideas?

    We settle for an idea that’s good enough and go with it. We miss out on all the novelty necessary for real creative solutions and settle for the same old stale outcomes.

    To Generate Novel Solutions divide your thinking into two separate stages. First, dedicate time to divergence - think creatively and generate many ideas. When you have enough options pause and begin thinking critically. Evaluate multiple ideas and converge on a single solution. It is best to follow the following guidelines for divergent and convergent thinking.

    Guidelines for Divergent Thinking

    • Defer Judgement
    • Go for Quantity
    • Go for Novelty
    • Build on Ideas

    Guidelines for Convergent Thinking

    • Use Affirmative Judgement
    • Improve Ideas
    • Retain Novelty
    • Be Deliberate in Criticism

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    Posted: 3 years ago