Interpretations: Change often begins with a question, rather than an answer
What was your best question today?
We tend to think that the way to change what we do – or in business, what other people do – is by having the answer. By having a clear plan of action at the ready.
But often, we spend too much time on the solution: shaping and crafting with conviction; jumping to the conclusion before we truly understand the problem and what we are trying to solve. So we end up in an obvious place dealing with more of what we already think – and already know.
This is a real problem when the world changes quickly. How are we going to be able to stay ahead of the curve if we are focused or attuned to what is already familiar? How are we going to disrupt the status quo and be different in a new future, if we spend most of our time on solutions at the expense of learning?
Drive change by looking beyond the binary
A study conducted by Chip and Dan Heath who looked at the outcomes of 168 business decisions, found 71% of them were binary. They asked “should we or shouldn’t we”. Over 50% of such binary decisions led to failure.
Yet when looking at decisions involving more options, such as “should we do this, or this”, the failure rate was 30%. And this was achieved simply by adding one more question, to gain one more option.
By asking more questions, we have more choices and more opportunity to succeed and get it right.
This is also the reason Albert Einstein is famous for saying that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the actual problem itself and only 5 minutes thinking about the solution. In other words, the quality of the solution that can be developed is in direct proportion to the time you spend identifying and truly understanding the problem.
Thinking and rethinking the problem as a series of questions reveals much more than just taking it at face value.
If we reframe and ask more questions, we get more options and better solutions. And more often than not, they’ll be simpler, more effective, and faster to implement than the first solution we can think of.
The power of asking more questions to unlock minds
So what does this mean for business when societal rules and regulations are constantly changing?
Like the famous strapline for Levi’s “when the world zigs, zag”, questions can help you to find your zag, by enabling you to think in different ways, getting beyond the obvious. As Ken Heilman, a neurologist and expert on creative activity in the brain has said, questions have an unlocking effect in people’s minds. Simply asking or hearing a question can produce a profound feeling of discovery and new understanding –the lightbulb moment.
In a way, questions are a form of divergent thinking and not dissimilar to the benefits of diversity, they can bring more creativity and innovation.
By asking more “what if” questions – for example, “what if we switched A and B?” we can unlock the magic of collective intelligence. This is the very mantra of a new university, The London Interdisciplinary School, where the sharing of mental models from across boundaries and areas of expertise can create new modes of understanding.
Applying interdisciplinary thinking and collective intelligence to the world of work
In business we need more of this interdisciplinary thinking. Asking “what if” of our teams from across disciplines and diverse skillsets. We should be questioning the question and focusing on the problem, rather than narrowing in on the facts and answers too quickly. This outdated, more convergent style of thinking locks us into the binary and limits what is possible.
Through divergent thinking and emphasis on questions and ideas, we can more easily navigate to new places. Creating untrodden paths to success and taking leaps forward that play into change and a changemaker way of being.
As Adam Grant has said in his book Think Again,
intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.
Grant suggests the best place to start is to rethink our options and to question what we do daily. To get uncomfortable. To enjoy doubt. And embrace the fog of the unknown.
When you are at home tonight, consider, what questions did you ask today? When did you ask ”what if”? And tomorrow, add one more question and option to your decision-making process.