Bob Stanish welcomed his brand-new sixth-grade class, “Today, you’re pupils. Up until now, you’ve learned to memorize the books and materials we give you. By the end of the year, many of you will be students. You’ll learn to ask questions that separate the important from the mundane, and you’ll learn to solve problems. In short, you’ll learn to think."
He taught his pupils to harness their curiosity by framing powerful questions. They designed experiments to uncover the mysteries of science, considered the impact of historical events by asking “what if” to imagine alternative futures and discovered facts about one other through the art of interviewing. Mr. Stanish’s sixth-grade class shaped the worldview of countless students, including myself.
Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes to find the right question, because then I’d be able to solve the problem in 5 minutes.”
Begin with curiosity.
Entrepreneurs and business owners learn to work quickly to provide solutions. In the marketplace, the emphasis is on answers and performing to a deadline, so it’s easy to bypass the thought process involved in asking high-quality questions. “Getting it done,” is part of a strong work ethic; however, it can get in the way of the high-quality answers that come from a great question.
Eric, a business consultant and one of my mentors, describes a training he did with C-suite executives. The team was engaged in a brainstorming session and Jim, one of the executives, offered an idea. Eric said, “That’s a good idea.” Jim stood up and headed for the door. Eric asked, “Where are you going?” Jim said, “To get started. You said I’ve got a good idea.” “Yes, you do. What’s another good idea?” Jim came back to the table. The ideas deepened. Jim offered another idea, and Eric acknowledged it. Once again, Jim got up to leave the room, and Eric asked where he was going. Jim said, “I’m implementing the idea. It’s better than the first one.” Eric said, “Yes, it is,” and “What’s another good idea?” More ideas emerged. Finally, Jim seemed to listen more deeply. He became genuinely curious and began asking questions about how the new ideas being discussed might fit together. Forty minutes after Jim first stood to leave the room, the executive team came up with an idea they unanimously agreed to develop. It wasn’t the first or second good idea the team selected. Rather, it was an idea that emerged from curiosity and collaboration.
Remember to ask, “What’s another good idea?”
Frame the Question to Open Doors
Countless opportunities are hidden behind the doors we face in business and in life. The way you frame your questions determines which doors you open. What are your underlying assumptions? Do your questions increase your opportunities?
Listen to the difference in these two questions, “What must I do to keep my business running while I’m on vacation?” versus “What can I do to go on vacation and close new business while I’m gone?” A Seattle Realtor asked the second question and closed business on a 4-day climb of Mt Rainier, i.e. with no cell coverage or access to her clients. In a demanding industry, she walked past the basic assumption of always needing to be on call to frame a question that delivered both freedom and success.
Asking high-quality questions opens the door to uncommon results. Begin with a sense of curiosity. Notice your assumptions. Design your questions to create possibility and open the doors that are most important to you.
The quality of your life is a reflection of the quality of questions you ask.”