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Asking right questions for faster solutions – Facilitator as a clinician – part 3

https://leadingwithquestions.com/latest-news/when-looking-for-wisdom-ask-slow-thinking-questions-avoid-the-fast-thinking-trap/Can use the above link either for this article or the book or a repost– fast-thinking brain and slow thinking brain – take an area of inquiry and convert it into a question. You are only using the fast-thinking brain, you also want to have questions for the reflective brain.

Young, old, female, or male, all human behavior can be broken down into four basic emotions, according to research by Glasgow University: We are either Glad, Mad, Sad or  Afraid about something

Please remember none of these emotions are either good or bad, each one of them has something to teach us – over or underused anyone can take away something from our personality. 

This technique could serve as a point of departure during the first few rounds of your diagnosis. Once the context has been set about the outcome required you can begin by asking these questions: “What are you glad about, Sad about” and so on. Why is this important? 

As we get into conversations our stakeholders either have contrasting emotions/ideas co-existing in their minds or are overwhelmed by one point of view. These questions delineate those various ideas and provide a space for all of them to be expressed. 

I typically start with the Glad question but if my audience wants to talk about something else, I let them, and later in the conversation, I redirect their attention to an appreciative inquiry. 

If you are having your first conversation with a CXO, I suggest you don’t. Use these questions, gather your information, process it, and then go to the CXO. I’ve noticed they have a need: 

a) To know that you’ve done your homework and 

b) To feel that their time is being well utilized. At the outset, summarize your understanding and then ask for the CXOs inputs. You can then commence asking these same questions even of a CXO. You’d be surprised to see the interesting POVs you’d get while leaving a good recall. 

It’s not all mathematics and you’d have to ride the wave while using the next technique.

People tell you what to leverage or fix.  

Kinds of questions you can ask : 

Breaking the ice

Sad, Mad, Glad. 

Visualization questions 

Gun to your head. 

Driving back home

Confront positive

What is group A (the top-performing group) doing differently, what’s their mindset, their actions, their rituals 

The desired state of abilities – pushing for abilities gets businesses to stop in their tracks 

In what conditions/context are they to perform these abilities, how is the system preventing them from performing these behaviours 🡪 can be a question or an area of inquiry. 

Figuring out the unspoken – what is not being said – Whirlpool and Vertex example [show how by using the various questioning techniques you got to the bottom of a problem

Constructive questioning – building on some piece of information

I am going to share with you a few questions and questioning techniques that you can use to eventually get to your area of inquiry.

You can convert these into questions. Here’s one of the ways I do it. First, begin by setting the context: none of these emotions are negative or bad, each one of them has something to teach us – over or underused anyone can take away something from our personality.

Uncover Reality | Add Value to your Clients / Stakeholders

Caveat: Ask the following questions at your own risk!

  1. To a CEO: How come you are so great / suck at Strategy?
  2. To a Peer: How come you manage your clients so well? 
  3. To a Direct Report: Why don’t you be more proactive?
  4. To a Spouse: Why don’t you listen to me?

…and if you did, unless you’re shot full of luck, the responses either aren’t going to add much value to what you’re trying to uncover or what you hear after you’ve posed your question may get you into a whole heap of trouble  

Is this because you should not be asking these questions? Nope! What I’m proposing is that these aren’t questions at all. They are what you would like to inquire into: something you’d like to learn, in some way benefit from, a piece of knowledge you’d like to uncover. But they’re not questions. They’re a larger area of inquiry. 

The way I’m defining an Area of Inquiry is that an AOI is something you’d like to dive deeper into by asking/offering more than a single direct question (sometimes to multiple stakeholders) to construct an answer that helps you accomplish the task at hand.

A small case to help you along. Gagan Adlakha, a senior partner at the management consultancy – Vyaktitva, and I were once tied together in a project that involved running an innovation workshop for a leading white-goods manufacturer (refrigerators, washing machines and what not). As we spoke to the CIO, he showed us the numbers. Numbers that clearly suggested that even when some incremental innovation (like adding an extra console on the door of a refrigerator) was put in place, sales for the following month jumped by about 2 to 5%. And there was enough data across several years that drew a direct correlation between innovation and revenue –  pretty cut and dried; go in there, do an innovation workshop, do it well and everyone is happy. We didn’t! 

Gagan and I began by speaking to the R&D guys. We asked them if they would like a Program on Innovation (Area of Inquiry being used instead of a question.) 

Of course!” was the prompt response and they showed us the same movie again – innovate even incrementally and the sales figure for the following month would jump by 2 to 5%. But push forward we did – I don’t remember the polite question we asked them but the essence of it was – if you’re R&D what’s stopping the innovation. They came back pretty forcefully saying that they did in fact innovate and they had something called an ‘Idea Shop’ where all innovative ideas went. They told us that they had 150 ideas sitting in the Idea Shop.

Wow! It took us the 3rd question to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it was a freight train): 

“What’s preventing these ideas from getting executed?” – They responded saying that they took great pride in coming up with new ideas but when these ideas went to Marketing, Marketing never bought into them, and so out of a 150 implementable ideas very few got executed. We went over to Marketing and this time with a slightly different approach – we first set the context of why we were there, and then shared our understanding of the Idea Shop; the fact there were 150 ideas sitting in the Shop – something we thought was huge. We were going to ask how these ideas could be leveraged, but they stopped us mid-sentence, quickly adding that these ideas were all very nice but R&D as they sat in their ivory towers were disconnected from the market realities of the main street… What that meant was that R&D either came up with ideas that were not feasible or the ideas would take too much time to understand and get into production. So who’s the villain you might ask R&D, marketing or someone else. 

We now had our first inkling of what was required and decided to go down that rabbit hole a little deeper. Pushing back, we asked the marketing team what they would do differently if their life/job depended on implementing 80%, an arbitrary figure we chose,  of the ideas that R&D came up with. After pausing for an uncomfortable while, and these were top guys – intelligent, quick to think on their feet and even quicker to respond:  draw, shoot, aim was typically their motto, they said that the first thing they would do would be to go over to R&D and understand what they had in mind when they came up with these ideas. Long story short – we ran a workout where we got the R&D and Marketing teams together and helped them understand each other – a big part of this workout was around Empathy. As we continued coaching these guys, a quarter later we managed to get a decent spike in their sales 

My point being – we went in there for an innovation workshop. We ended up doing an intervention that had a lot to do with Empathy and almost nothing to do with innovation. 

In the above case there are a few questioning techniques that we used that can help you unpack an Area of Inquiry.

For the purposes of this case one of the AOIs was – ‘Is an innovation workshop required?’ 

Here’s a questioning technique perhaps even a sequence that helped us get the plane off the ground:

Identifying your basic assumptions.

Some examples of our assumptions were: Innovation wasn’t happening, or Innovation is required or they need to innovate more

Validate / invalidated these assumptions by looking for what’s not in the plot?

What was the data that we weren’t being shown – there were 150 ideas already present but what was the data on the implementation/life cycle of these ideas? It’s important to keep a positive mindset while using this method of questioning – sometimes data isn’t withheld on purpose, it’s just that people have not thought about certain angles and so this is one of the methods by which you as a consultant/facilitator or designer can add value.

Constructive Questioning (no this is not the same as Appreciative Inquiry)

Time is at a premium. And if you are running a diagnostic you can’t ask every stakeholder every question. You need to sharpen your questioning skills. One of the ways of doing this is by using the Constructive Technique of questioning. In the case you just went through, once we became aware of the fact that there were ideas that had already been generated and sitting idle, we took this fact to marketing and constructed our understanding just a bit more based upon the initial questions that we had asked R&D. With the view that Marketing gave us if I were to carry on the diagnostic with other stakeholders (and if required) I could then construct my understanding to the next level. 

I like the Constructive Questioning technique for 3 reasons: 

  1. It helps you get a deeper and very relevant understanding of what’s really happening – thus allowing you to unpack your area of inquiry
  2. It expedites the questioning process 
  3. I run ‘Storytelling for Business’ workshops for a lot of consulting firms – some of them belong to the big 5 and share this technique with my participants for constructing relevant stories while sharing your diagnostic / findings with the client. 

Imagine if your client told you to do a session on Innovation and you got back after the diagnostic saying we’re doing something on Empathy – you’re going to face a tough time explaining it. But if you could connect and use what happened in a narrative of how you moved from different points of view to a viewing point and thus arrived at your conclusion – this is going to make your findings more digestible.

This article does not provide a comprehensive list on questioning techniques. There are many more, some of which you may be familiar with. I have at some point in time used one or more of the following techniques: The Visualization Technique, The Basic Emotions Technique, The Confront Positive Technique, and so on to successfully unpack Areas of Inquiry. If you’d like to learn about these techniques you can book a free 30 min consulting session with me. 

Credit, where credit’s due: My sincere thanks to Gagan Adlakha and the folks at Vyaktitva – It’s in those 10 years I spent at Vyaktitva where  I picked up most of these techniques. 

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