As a follow-up to my recent posts on the importance of thinking for leaders, I promised to share some of my favorite questions to stimulate the process. The truth is, there are countless questions with the power to unlock endless possibilities. What follows are some of the ones I return to over and over again.
NOTE: Because I’ve written other posts on this topic, I’ll try not to repeat myself – but some questions are so powerful, they deserve to be mentioned again here.
Here’s one final thought to frame these questions. Each finds its value when applied to a specific problem, opportunity, situation or conflict. Without context, they are like arrows shot into the wind without a target. They are of no value.
- Exactly what are we trying to accomplish? (My favorite leadership question.)
- What do we know?
- What do we not know?
- What can we control?
- What is out of our control?
- Who else cares about this issue?
- What does the data reveal?
- What are the potential causes of this situation?
- What have others done successfully in the past?
- In a perfect world, what would the ideal look like?
- If we are unsuccessful, what is the worst that could happen?
- If we could do just one thing, what would we do?
- How will we measure our progress?
- If we hired outside consultants to help us, what do we think they would do?
- What if we were trying to accomplish the opposite, what would we do?
- Who can help me think about this?
- What happens if we do nothing?
- What are our options?
- When do we need to make a decision/act?
- If failure were not an option, what would we do?
- If money were no object, what would we do?
- How would I explain this problem/opportunity to a 5 year old child?
- How would I depict this situation in a picture?
The power of a hard-working question is staggering. But make no mistake, although the question may be the key to unlock the door to your ultimate solution, it won’t do the work for you.
The number one problem I’ve seen over the years regarding creative thinking and problem solving is not the intellect of the leader, or the desire to think deeply; the problem is most often inadequate time on task. Leaders don’t devote enough time to thinking – myself included. We live in a microwave and Pop-tart world. We want everything instantly – including innovative solutions to our most perplexing and complex problems. That is a pipe dream.
Here’s the analogy I’ve been using for years…
You could walk outside and find a gold nugget lying on the ground in your backyard – but you probably won’t! Gold is most often found deep in the earth. You must move a lot of dirt to strike it rich. Thinking is very similar. Although many of us have had an experience in which we “got rich quick” and a great idea came to us like a gift from above, we cannot let a random occurrence become our expectation of the norm. Questions are the shovels and picks we use to unearth the solutions we need.
Hard-working questions work hard when we do. Let's start digging![GLS_Shield]