Discovery Skill #2: Questioning – Leadership Network Blog
Leadership Network was established thirty years ago, in part, as a result of Peter Drucker’s relationship with and influence upon our founder, Bob Buford. More than 50 years ago, Peter Drucker described the power of provocative questions for leadership. He wrote: “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.”
Innovators find creative solutions to problems because they are relentless in finding and asking the right questions. They aren’t afraid to question and challenge the status quo, and they constantly seek out those with the same mindset yet diverse perspectives. Creative leaders spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about how to change the world. In doing so, the continually ask, “What would happen if…?”
To question effectively, innovative leaders do the following:
- They ask “How could we…?” Too often we approach challenges with a deficit mindset. When potential solutions are proposed, our common response is, “That won’t work” or “We’ve never done that before.” Even a simple shift from “Can we do that?” to “How could we do that?” opens the conversations to possibilities that would not have otherwise been entertained.
- They imagine opposites. In his book The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin writes that innovative thinkers have “the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads.” He explains, “Without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” Imagining disagreeing alternatives often leads to truly innovative insights.
- They challenge assumptions. Pierre Wack, the great thinker behind Shell Corporation’s innovative scenario planning, said, “I have found that getting to that management “Aha!” is the real challenge…It does not simply leap at you when you’ve presented all the alternatives, no matter how eloquent your expression or how beautifully drawn your charts. It happens when your message reaches the microcosms [mental models] of decision makers, obliges them to question their assumptions about how their business world works, and leads them to change and reorganize their inner models of reality.” To develop truly breakthrough ideas, core assumptions must be laid bare and challenged. For most leaders, this requires disruption through an outside voice. The most creative leaders expand their own fields of vision by holding up a mirror to their perspectives, turning and twisting it from multiple angels to change and challenge their points of view.
- They embrace constraints. Authors of The Innovator’s DNA point out that most of us impose constraints on our thinking only when forced to deal with real-world limitations, such as resource allocations or technology restrictions. Ironically, great questions actively impose constraints on our thinking and serve as a catalyst for out-of-the-box insights.
Developing a Questioner’s Mind
While this type of constant questioning and exploration is second nature to the most innovative among us, as with the other discovery skills, a leader can develop a ‘questioner’s mind’. By engaging in environments and participating in conversations with other creative minds, individuals and teams, leaders can develop and hone the skills necessary to find the right questions. The discovery of the right questions will lead to better answers.
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