Photo credit (above): Raymond Bryson | Flickr
By ROSHAN THIRAN
As we end this year and go into a new year, I asked myself, what one thing should I do differently next year? My thoughts ran all over from how to better manage the business, to being more creative in our product innovation, to spending more time with employees and to being a better father and husband. But as I was dwelling deeper into the question, I realised my most important lesson I learnt this year is this statement:– Answers don’t change the world, questions do!
And I know that this is the biggest change I need to drive in my life for the new year – I needed to move from being an “answer-man” to a “question-man”.
What does this mean? Well, many leaders spend 80% of their time telling and 20% of the time asking. Great leaders flip the equation over spending 80% of the time asking the right questions and only 20% of time spewing answers.
Why questions are key to success
All of us typically get frustrated or end up in tough situations from time to time. We naturally look for answers and solutions but in doing so we unwittingly create blocks instead of openings. In fact, we end up recycling the same over-used, unhelpful answers. To overcome this, we need to ask new questions. Results are driven by questions.
A few weeks ago, over lunch with former Citibank chief executive officer Sanjeev Nanavati, he mentioned that many senior leaders made bad decisions because they never questioned assumptions. He claimed that by questioning assumptions, we end up making better decisions. Indira Gandhi goes a step further by asserting that “the power to question is the basis of all human progress.”
Oprah Winfrey became a billionaire and a celebrity through her unique way of connecting with people. Her guests, like Lance Armstrong sometimes even ended up confessing publicly on her show.
How does she do this? All she does is to connect and influence people by asking powerful questions. All great leaders use the power of questions to succeed.
Even at interviews, questions triumph
Yes, research indicates that how you ask questions during an interview (when you are supposed to have all the answers!) weighs heavily and could determine if you get the job or not. Our ability to answer questions impressively in an interview is just a small part of the hiring equation.
The questions you ask your interviewer helps them assess the quality of your thought process and discerning skills, creating an impression that you are a proactive, intelligent and confident person. Asking the right question is key to everything in life.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Marilee Adams, author of Change your Questions, Change your Life. She confirmed my belief that questions are at the core of how we behave, think and even relate with each other.
She spent the rest of the afternoon with me talking about Question Thinking. She claims that every single human thought process and what we end up doing is framed in question form.
But she adds that there are two forms of questions we ask. One is called the Judger mindset whilst the other she terms the Learner mindset. All of us have both these mind-sets and we constantly toggled between these two. When a situation hits us, the Judger reacts and asks questions such as:
• Why am I such a failure?
• Why are they so stupid?
• What’s wrong with them/or me?
• Why bother?
• Whose fault is it?
By asking these questions in our mind, we form answers to them which we then express out, causing issues to deepen and worsen. The Learner mindset asks a different set of questions. They include:
• What happened?
• What do I want?
• What are the facts?
• What assumptions am I making?
• What can I learn?
• What am I responsible for?
• What’s possible? What are my choices?
• What’s best to do now?
By asking these questions, we come up with answers for them. These questions usually lead us to thoughtful choices which are solution focused whilst the Judger ends up making automatic reactionary moves and is blame-focused.
Dr Adams believes that each of us has a choice to move from Judger mode to Learner mode by asking switching questions. This is a choice we all have, and she calls her framework “The Choice Map”.
Most of us don’t realise it but we are shaped by the questions we ask. If questions we ask are from us being open-minded or trying to learn, then the resulting answers are optimistic, hopeful and full of possibilities.
If our questions are asked from negative reactions, the answers will lead us to failure, stress and limited options. So are we constantly in a Judger mindset or a Learner mindset? For 2014, let’s strive to spend more time in the Learner space.
Innovations begin with questions
When Albert Einstein was a little boy, his mother told him to ask his teacher two questions every day that the teacher could not answer. Little Einstein spend all day thinking up really hard questions that the teacher could not answer. I bet none of his teachers really liked him and his barrage of hard questions.
However, once he grew up, his continuous questioning of everything enabled a watch repairman to become of the greatest scientist ever.
He once claimed “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
If you look into all great innovation and disruption, in different industries or in products or services, they usually stem from a new question being asked (or an old question being asked differently!).
Asking Learner questions helps us to clarify and gather information. It allows us to discover and challenge assumptions and most importantly it allows us to evaluate, assess and resolve problem correctly and in an open-minded basis.
Asking the right questions
So, where do we start? What are the right questions we should ask daily? Dr Adams list down 12 questions she feels helps her when she is stuck, frustrated and when she wants to drive change. The questions are:
• What do I want?
• What are my choices?
• What assumptions am I making?
• What am I responsible for?
• How else can I think about this?
• What is the other person feeling, thinking and wanting?
• What am I missing or avoiding?
• What can I learn –
— From this person or situation?
— From this mistake or failure?
— From this success?
• What action steps make the most sense?
• What question should I ask (myself or others)?
• How can I turn this into a win-win?
• What’s possible?
You can leverage these questions yourself and make it point to start this year by constantly asking these Learner questions instead of the reactionary Judger questions.
Voltaire once said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” He was on to something. Many of us are so busy coming up with answers and excuses for everything under the sun that we may have forgotten one of the most defining aspects of who we have become and who we can become.
Start asking questions. But more importantly, ask Learner questions. The more questions we ask, the more likely 2014 will be a year full of happiness, joy and prosperity. Wishing each of you a very blessed 2014 and warm wishes from all of us at Leaderonomics.
Roshan Thiran wishes you a very blessed New Year. He hopes this new year will be a year where your “positive” questions enable you to “change the world”. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Be a Leader” video series is now available for free for you to learn valuable leadership lessons. To watch these videos, go to YouTube and Search for the term “Be a Leader Leaderonomics”
Roshan is the founder and CEO of the Leaderonomics Group. He believes that everyone can be a leader and make a dent in the universe, in their own special ways. Connect with Roshan on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for more insights into business, personal development and leadership. You can also email him at email@example.com.