Monday, November 02, 2009

The Questions We Ask: Keys to our Greater Contribution & Relevance

We live in such an answer-oriented culture that we forget the value of our questions and how they can contribute to our contribution and our relevance, not to mention our development and the success of our endeavors. I learned once from a mentor that the chief indicator of the quality of consultants is often the quality of the questions they ask. The questions reveal the level of experience and wisdom of the one who poses the question. It elevates the potential and quality of the project. It expands the scope and bounds of our, and the team's, thinking and action.

I have learned, over time, that in situations where innovation is critical, where new unprecedented paths are being created, new questions are more critical to success than old answers, and that new questions yield better and more relevant answers and results.

Often we find in our work that we have stakeholders who do not, or no longer, value our contribution. Rather than fretting or being resentful, we should take time to examine the relevance of the questions we are bringing to the party in the interest of that stakeholder.

Sometimes we do not know new questions to ask, suggesting we have become stagnant and have stopped developing ourselves, and are then unable to develop those around us. We are trapped in a box we need to take time to break out of. Here is where the practice of Covey's 7th Habit of "Sharpening the Saw" is in order. If you find yourself in this state, I encourage you to
cultivate new relevant questions via:

Broader and different exposures to new ways of thinking and perceiving. Social media is a huge opportunity aiding this exposure, for its potential to facilitate talking with/reading/watching/listening to diverse and relevant collaborators and colleagues. Being active in relevant professional associations also assists this exposure.

Gaining deeper insight into your stakeholders interest. Story listening and ongoing direct questioning aids this. People love to talk about and tell stories about their interests and problems. Be available to actively listen with an ear to uncovering needs you have the resources to meet.

Correlate your exposures to your stakeholder's interests to pose questions that add value, even when sometimes, you do not have the answers.

Persistent in co-creating answers to new questions with stakeholders. The newer and more radical the question, the more initial resistance and opposition you should expect. It is only a test to be passed. Pass it.

As you practice these steps you will find that you grow, as well as your stakeholders, as well as your value proposition.

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