Monday, 21 November 2016


 How to inspire Insight, Innovation and Action (part 2)
Ishola Ayodele

At the 2015 Nordic Business Forum,  John. C. Maxwell told the story of a great female basketball coach who had once invited him to the locker room during the halftime break to see how she handles the team. The coach leaves the players and goes to an adjoining room. The players have a blank marker board showing only three topics;
What did we do right?
What did we do wrong?
 What do we need to change?

One of the players wrote 2-3 things under each topic in about five minutes. After this the coach walks into the locker room, looks at the answers and gives a couple of comments – this in about three minutes. When Maxwell later asked the coach what was behind the exercise, he got an interesting answer.

During the first two years the coach was not successful. She told Maxwell that she was leading by assumption. The coach had thought that she and her players were on the same page, which ultimately wasn’t true.

In his insightful book, ‘The Knowledge Evolution’ Verna Allee wrote, *“A vital question, a creative question, rivets our attention. All the creative power of our minds is focused on the question. Knowledge emerges in response to these compelling questions. They open us to new worlds.”*

In his bestselling new book, ‘A More Beautiful Question: The Power Of Inquiry To Spark Breakthrough Ideas’, Warren Berger argues that while we're all hungry for better answers, we must first learn to ask the right questions. In this well-researched book which covers companies like Google, Neflix, Foursquare and many top rated companies, he came to the conclusion that, *“Smart entrepreneurs ask greats questions that reveal overlooked inefficiencies”.*

And by the way the title of John Maxwell speech at the Nordic Business Forum was “Don’t lead with assumptions; leaders ask great questions”.

So what are the characteristics of a great question?

A powerful question is a question which

• generates curiosity in the listener.

• stimulates reflective conversation.

• is thought-provoking.

• surfaces underlying assumptions.

• invites creativity and new possibilities.

• generates energy and forward movement.

• channels attention and focuses inquiry.

• stays with participants.

• touches a deep meaning.

• evokes more questions.

According to Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas in their article ‘Relearning the Art of Asking Question’ published by the Harvard business review, powerful questions can be divided into four Clarifying,  Adjoining, Funneling, and Elevating depending on the goal you want to achieve.

Here is the summary.

*Clarifying questions:*
They help us better understand what has been said. In many conversations, people speak past one another.

Asking clarifying questions can help uncover the real intent behind what is said.

These help us understand each other better and lead us toward relevant follow-up questions.
“Can you tell me more?” and
“Why do you say so?” both fall into this category.

People often don’t ask these questions, because they tend to make assumptions and complete any missing parts themselves.

*Adjoining questions:*
They  are used to explore related aspects of the problem that are ignored in the conversation.
Questions such as, “How would this concept apply in a different context?” or “What are the related uses of this technology?” fall into this category.

For example, asking “How would these insights apply in Canada?” during a discussion on customer life-time value in the U.S. can open a useful discussion on behavioral differences between customers in the U.S. and Canada. Our laser-like focus on immediate tasks often inhibits our asking more of these exploratory questions, but taking time to ask them can help us gain a broader understanding of something.

*Funneling questions:*
They are used to dive deeper. We ask these to understand how an answer was derived, to challenge assumptions, and to understand the root causes of problems.
 Examples include: “How did you do the analysis?” and “Why did you not include this step?”

Funneling can naturally follow the design of an organization and its offerings, such as, “Can we take this analysis of outdoor products and drive it down to a certain brand of lawn furniture?” Most analytical teams – especially those embedded in business operations – do an excellent job of using these questions.

*Elevating questions:*
They raise broader issues and highlight the bigger picture. They help you zoom out.

Being too immersed in an immediate problem makes it harder to see the overall context behind it. So you can ask,
“Taking a step back, what are the larger issues?” or
“Are we even addressing the right question?”

For example, a discussion on issues like margin decline and decreasing customer satisfaction could turn into a broader discussion of corporate strategy with an elevating question: “Instead of talking about these issues separately, what are the larger trends we should be concerned about? How do they all tie together?”

These questions take us to a higher playing field where we can better see connections between individual problems.

The challenge of leadership in this 21st century cannot be met by providing all the answers to a problem but by asking powerful questions that will provoke insightful thinking that can bring about great innovation and inspire action in the followers. This is why in Germany, the job title *Direktor Grundsatzfragen* translates as *“Director of Fundamental Questions.”*  Some of the larger German companies like Daimler, Bayer, Siemens, SAP and the rest  have an entire department of Grundsatzfragen.

These are the people who are always thinking about what the next questions will be.

Little wonder  Rilee Goldberg observed, in his evergreen book ‘THE ART OF THE QUESTION’,

Which type of questions do you ask most and how well has it work for you?

Please share your thoughts with me by clicking on the post a comment box below.
Ishola Ayodele is a Public Relations practitioner and a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.
He offers the following services to Large Corporations, SMEs and Individuals.
Result Oriented Communication,
Effective Crisis Communication,
Effectual Political Communication,
Reputation and Image management,
And Impactful Presentation Coaching.
He can be reached on
BBM 58ED6030,
twitter @ishopr and via

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