We live in a world of pace, high-energy and therefore the quickest way to get things done is often to tell people. Tell people how, what, when, and even why something needs to be done.
Yet in the future of ever more complex, pioneering new ways to do things do we really need more telling or should we look at more ASKING?
Questions are a fundamental fabric of learning and therefore perhaps the most unheralded element of innovation. When we question – admittedly often in our own minds – why things are as they are and how they could change, we are spurred into creativity and innovative thoughts. Those thoughts then often manifest themselves as activities, experiments and trials.
Instead of telling people to be more customer-centric, innovative, dynamic maybe we should calm down a little and ask people “what would you do if you had complete control over the outcome / idea / innovation?”
No budget constraints, no time issues, no demands – just a simple, elegant question.
Edgar Schein is a revered academic, author and champion for Organisation Design and Development. Known throughout the world for his standout teaching and research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) his book Organizational Culture and Leadership is the oft-used cornerstone of many OD and HR practitioner’s toolkit for systemic change in business.
His latest work – Humble Inquiry urges us to do 3 things: Do less telling; do more asking and get better at listening to, and acknowledging, others.
Yet we tell people stuff all the time. It seems like the psychological shortcut to getting things done. Yet does it breed understanding? Unlikely. It it considered, in Schein’s research, a psychological put-down. Asking for something – rather than telling or directing people – builds a psychological and sociologically place of equity. It empowers the other person rather than inculcates the power in the “teller”.
Humble Inquiry has 3 kinds of humility – basic (respect and appreciation unconditionally given); optional (admiration for those who have achieved); and here and now (how I feel when i am dependent on you – derived from an attitude of interest and curiosity).
Here and now humility – the dependency on others – maximises connectivity between people and minimises bias and preconceptions about them and their ability.
The simple “please help me understand what is happening here?” question is a non-accusational dependency on someone to illuminate and inform the other person. It’s a feeling of trust that someone else knows something that will help, has influence, can shape.
When Rank and Role in companies can be more prohibitive than facilitative, leaders could find out more of the truth from others via this place of safety. And then invite fully-fledged innovative thinking without the debilitating impact of fear. Fear – as Henri Hypponen’s research has proven reduces our IQ significantly. So when we’re in a state of fear, we are less cognitively proficient let alone creatively proficient.
WorldBlu.com’s work on work from a freedom-centred perspective over a fear and control, provides us with a framework and set of principles to guide us through the use of questions over telling. In fact one of the biggest questions WorldBlu company leaders ask is “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Also known as the Power Question.
So our culture of do and tell is likely painting us into some non-innovative, non-future shaping thoughts and the gentle art of questioning appears to offer us a way out of this self-imposed prison of the present.
Here and now humility, that interest and curiosity in others and inventive outcomes, is perhaps a practice we could all indulge in.