I saw a quote this week that really resonated with me. “We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.” James Stephens, Irish Poet.
Stephens wasn’t alive when Nancy Kline started to consider what it was that enabled deep, generative thinking and a true Thinking Environment but perhaps she knew of this quote (Nancy loves her poetry). She knew that leaders were not allowing the best to be revealed in their workforce. She knew of leaders that wanted to do more but didn’t know how to. Thinking, that essential crucible of all our decision making, was being hampered by poor thinking, by untrue assumptions but what was to be done?
Truly a wise question.
It is a question that we all, as leaders should be asking ourselves every day, every time we are faced with an issue, with a problem. What should be done? And that I think is the core of an incisive question. A question that should be designed to take us to the very centre of a potential solution.
When I work with others I tell them about the incisive question and they think it easy to determine. We are losing staff because they’re stressed. What can we do to keep staff? That’s certainly a good open question but is it an incisive one? What staff do we want to keep? Do we want the productive ones only, or the ones that have potential, or the ones that will follow instructions, or the ones who will challenge our leadership? What assumptions are we making about the situation, about the people we manage, about their situations and potential?
An incisive question is that ‘well packed question’ that Stephens spoke about. So before you start to ask the question of others, think about the questions you need to ask of yourself first. Use the Thinking Environment to do this. Have a coach or thinking partner to help you access your best, your deepest, your most generative thinking.
For the truth is we never stop asking questions – or we shouldn’t – because that is how we learn and grow, both as individuals and as a society. Without that interrogation we slip into conformity, our views get ossified and we lose the diversity that makes us vibrant.
So, as a leader, what are you going to do next? What incisive question will you ask of yourself?
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.