A Guide To Uncovering The Next Breakthrough For Your Business
Michael DeVenney
November 15, 2021

There are so many moving parts taking your attention right now, life and work are more about distraction than traction. Every move has serious consequences, and the weight of our decisions can feel overwhelming. With the enormity of what is in front of us, we may miss the opportunity. Maybe we need to lighten up a little to find the answer, or at least the right question.

You are faced with holding revenues together, thinking of new ways of providing value for customers through innovation, and understanding the key to connecting people for productive and healthy performance. Each are interconnected, while all are missing something.

Yet somewhere is the thread that unlocks the map to the direction that is right for your business.

The coronavirus pandemic has upset our world like no other crisis. We are challenged to make decisions and consider plans due to the heightened complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty. One move could set off a series of events that we had not thought possible – and, ironically, that is the goal.

The answer lies in a question. Not just any question, but the question that will unlock the potential of leveraging the interconnections, the catalyst to bring people together confidently to move your business forward together, you need to look below the surface, underneath the obvious, and away from the noise.

As a child, you were an expert at questioning people to get what you needed to know to make sense of it all. Being older, we feel we need to have the answers. But maybe we need to get in touch with our inner child to get back to questions, or at least one question.

The ability to resolve the critical problems you face and capture the right opportunities, bringing people along with you, is simplified and accelerated if a question is asked that creates a breakthrough in perspective: parts the clouds, clears the fog, whatever your metaphor, the catalyst question unlocks creativity and critical thinking.

There were times when I struggled with situations, trying to find the answer, yet all I ended up with were knots, roadblocks, and a headache. Then I would talk to a friend, and he or she would say “why not look at this piece?” and the puzzle just snapped in place. Some people are amazing at spotting the obvious. And the catalyst question is usually right there, hiding in front of you.

Our way forward right now is tied to asking questions – not having the answers.

Questions reframe problems and goals in ways that dissolve barriers to old thinking. They can limit biases and turf prior assumptions to channel thinking down more productive pathways. You go from feeling stuck to suddenly seeing new possibilities and gain motivation to pursue them.

And questions have a curious power to unlock new insights. They can get people to change restrictive thinking and open new behaviors for progress. Reframing questions, in whatever setting, can be a fast way to innovation and growth, and a quick way back to some of the fun of childhood.

Try this when you are struggling with a decision or problem: bring together 4 to 6 people (the more diverse the perspectives and experiences the better) and highlight the critical issue in front of you. Check your watch and give your group eight (8) minutes and ask everyone to ask any question that comes to mind about the issue. And, most important, mention that no solutions are allowed, only questions. And no preambles – just the question, as explanations and details clog the fun and start people down the road of seeing a situation in a traditional way and that is the very thing you want to avoid.

Set the time and go! Let the questions fly and have someone write them down – no judgment, no pushback, just put them to paper or whiteboard. Once everyone knows there are no boundaries, the creativity will flow, and the questions will become more surprising and provocative. Play off the questions that others are asking.

The 8-minute rule is important. The time pressure forces people to stick to ‘only questions and people find it excruciatingly difficult to not start answering the questions for even just eight minutes. Also, if people are focused on generating as many questions as possible, they will more likely generate short, expansive questions that are unburdened by qualifications, biases, and assumptions. They will not feel obliged to explain questions that come from left field or try to carefully coach their language around charged topics.

Once the bell rings, take a breather and ask how people feel. Usually everyone responds positively, with energy and lightness. The exercise breaks the mood around a problem.

Now, look at the questions. Select a few questions that are intriguing, different than how the situation has been viewed, or create a little discomfort. Try expanding on these questions with related ones. Ask why the questions seems important or meaningful and then why the reason given matters. By better understanding why a question matters, the resolve is deepened to do something about it. Commit to pursuing the question that is the most meaningful.

Which question intrigues you the most? Why? What does it mean to your business? Frame the question into a form that matters the most and creates the need for taking actions.

Almost 80% of the time, this exercise develops a question that is the lever to solving a problem or achieving a goal. You find the question that is strategic and catalytic – if you had the answer, everything else falls into place. Its answer will simplify, leverage, accelerate, and multiply.

And it is a fun exercise and right now, a little lightness goes a long way to putting people in the right space to think more clearly.

Questions are important now as we do know what lies ahead and trying to plan out even three months is almost impossible. Yet, we need to be strategic and have clarity of direction. Framing our future in a question, or set of three or four questions, helps us adapt and manage our way through the maze. Rather than saying we will do this and that, which may or may not be possible, by having questions to answer as we reach a turn, we can know the right way forward as we answer the question. It enables us to keep our strategy emergent and agile, with direction and moving with the landscape.

I love questions. They lead us to know each other, to understand what we are dealing with, and to open our minds to what is possible. Moving from struggling for answers to yelling out questions shifts our thinking to our most creative place, to adapt, jump in, and look behind the obvious. It puts us exactly where we need to be in this shifting and unstable environment, as it brings us together without judgment to work together.

“Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go”, Dr. Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author

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