Want better ideas? Ask better questions

Want better ideas? Ask better questions

If you’re like most of us in the 21st Century, you’re probably looking to be innovative and effective. You, or people around you might be talking about being “disrupters” in your industry.

You and your team might be trying to “do more, with less.” And of course, with access to the internet and a world full of data, that should be getting easier and easier. But, it isn’t getting easier.

You’re drowning in information and the decisions get harder and harder.

So, how in the world do you get to the good ideas? How do you find the information that will be helpful or innovative or groundbreaking? How do you explore that data and find what helps?

Well, like so much of what we talk about in this blog, it’s a simple idea that can be tough to implement – ask better questions.

If you’re a leader, whether by formal title or informal influence, you’re probably going to find asking questions a bit disconcerting. After all, you’ve gotten your title and your influence by having the answers. Now it’s going to look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Or is it?

Asking really good questions doesn’t leave people thinking you don’t know anything. In fact, in most cases it leaves people thinking, “Wow, what a great question, she always knows just what to ask to push us to better things.”

So what makes one question better than another?

Ask big questions early on in a project

Why are we doing this? What will success look like? It might surprise you how often you hear wildly divergent answers, from your team or your colleagues, to some of those fundamental ideas — it’s worth exploring them.

Ask some unexpected questions

What if we didn’t have any money, how would we do this? If something major threw us off track on this project, at what point could we say it’s “good enough?”

Ask open-ended questions

Letting go of that need to know the answer comes easier if you try to be really curious. “Tell me more about that… What makes you think that?”

If you struggle with asking curiosity-based questions you can try literally saying silently to yourself, “I’m curious to know…” before asking your question out loud.

“I’m curious to know, how might we do that with the deadlines we face?”

Encourage others to ask questions

One of my mantras when I was leading large groups of people was, “If you come to me with a problem, bring some solutions too.” It was meant to encourage thinking and discussion and sometimes it worked. But, it also left people floundering to find some solutions on their own before even coming to me. That was the opposite of what I wanted.

A better approach, if you’re going to have a mantra like that, is something like, “Come to me with problems and bring some curious and thorny questions we should ask ourselves about it.” That not only starts the conversation with some good questions but also encourages a questioning, thoughtful approach to problem-solving.

Coach’s Question:

What’s holding you back from asking questions, more than giving answers? Is it worth it? What big idea might you uncover if you asked better questions? What challenges are you or your organization dealing with, that might benefit from some big or unexpected questions?

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