Are you asking the right questions?

Have you ever left a meeting questioning why you were summoned? What was the goal? What did you try to achieve? Well, I have been to too many meetings where I felt we wasted valuable time and effort. Also, I took part in so many branding projects that did no go anywhere. I know I am not alone. So, let’s see if we can fix the problem of ineffectiveness.

I truly believe that one of the reasons we waste so much time and effort in meetings and projects, is our lack of direction. Think about an airplane… If the pilot does not know where to land, what is the point of taking off? You have to know where you want to be, what you want to accomplish, what to consider as success before you start the meeting or the project. I know this is stating the obvious… But, somehow all those meeting agendas or project objectives do not prevent us from wasting time and money, signaling me that we wrongfully determine our objectives. So the bigger question is, how can we be sure that we have the right objective? My answer is: We should ask the right questions…

Albert Einstein once said:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Problems are like locked doors and questions are like keys. Only by asking the right question we can unlock the door. Based on my observation, often we spend too much time answering questions and too little time asking the right question.

According to Vogt, Brown and Isaacs, a powerful question has three attributes:

First of all they are constructed in a way to make us think differently. They force us to broaden our mind, to consider the inconsiderable, to think the unthinkable. There are yes-no questions, there are one-sentence-questions and there are powerful questions… Based on their research, they found that there is a hierarchy of questions.  The king of the castle is “why” followed by “how”. These two are the most powerful questions you can ask. Just consider these two examples:

-Are we satisfied with our team’s performance?

-Why might it be that our team’s performance has been declining for 3 months?

As you can see, the “why” question opens more doors, generates a wealth of insights. Obviously, we are not talking about the simplistic questions like: “Why didn’t you call me?

Second attribute of a powerful question is its scope. As a rule of thumb: the bigger the scope, the more vague the answer becomes. Realistically, what is within our reach? What is beyond our boundary? What would be asking too much? Again consider the following questions:

-Why might it be that our team’s performance has been declining for 3 months?

-Why might it be the real estate sector’s performance has been declining for 3 months?

Second question is obviously too broad. Even if we have an answer, what are we supposed to do with it? What use does it have?

Finally, powerful questions challenge existing assumptions. Often times, unconsciously we communicate our beliefs, assuming error or blame. We state the obvious. Powerful questions don’t point finger to anyone. They are not dualistic. Instead they lead to a third way.

-How can we beat our competitor?

-How can we become more than a corporation?

First question states the obvious: We are not number one. We are inferior to our competitor. However, the second one pushes us outside our comfort zone. Of course, there is an assumption, which is we are a corporation. But it does not assume error or blame. It leads us to a place where we need to go to sustain our success.

Next time, we will talk about another reason for our ineffectiveness: the Chief Answer Officer.

Actionable tip of the day: Before starting a project, ask yourself, what are we trying to achieve? What are your aspirations? Align your goals with your aspirations. Ask more “why” and “how” questions instead of “what” questions.

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. interesting point about asking “why?”. i raise this question in almost every project or task i am presented with.

    many times, people who aren’t trained in the process of (design) critiques tend to take these questions as personal insults or challenging them, when, in fact, as the designer, i am just trying to understand what the actual issue is so i can create an effective solution.

    for example, a classic client comment of “make the phone number larger.” but why? what is the issue? oh, you want people to call instead of going to your website because human interaction is what you feel your company offers over the competition? ok, maybe we focus the direction of the copy to how your company offers a live person to listen to the customer, instead of having them communicate through impersonal emails.

    so by asking “why” here, we found out the solution wasn’t that the client loves to see numbers set in larger type sizes, but that customers don’t realize of the “live person” benefit they offer.

    and i realize that its not always /what/ you say but /how/ you say it. so delivery, explanation and further discussion are very important to this magical question of “why.” but thats how we push the project further.

    1. Soydanbay says:

      Hi Adam,

      Everything you said is absolutely right. When we ask “why”, we start to see life differently. However, as you mentioned, tonality is the key. Asking too many “why” questions might be perceived as challenging, undermining, disrespecting the person you are talking to.
      I believe, a healthy brand should clearly answers these three questions:
      Why do you do, what you do?
      How do you do, what you do?
      What do you do that matters to me?

      Cheers,
      Gunter

  2. Marco says:

    Love the site style, is it a custom one or a layout?

    Would like to utilize something comparable for a company site I desire to start

    1. Soydanbay says:

      Hi Marco,
      The theme is called Mystique.
      Cheers

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