If you want to improve your, and your company’s strategic thinking and innovation capability, take some time to write down some questions about challenges you are facing.
Any time I talk with fellow innovators, a large part of the conversation revolves around “what questions are we not asking that will help us find out where to make a difference?”. Granted, as we move along the project we discover more questions that don’t have an answer.
For an innovator, this is great territory to be in. For a delivery-driven executive, on the other hand, this is the twilight zone!
Yet, if these executives really want innovation, then they should create a space for people to ask questions they would never think of asking.
Some companies have weekly Town Hall type meetings used to update employees on company activities, as well as get feedback from them. This is a tradition. But, what if we create another type of meeting where employees are given the chance to question what the company is doing?
A “Challenge the status quo day”. That could be enough to get people to loosen up 🙂
Why? What do we want to accomplish by letting others have a go at making decisions?
Because in traditional companies it is the leader who is looked upon for answers. But for most situations, this is flawed thinking. Work in the behavioral economics and decision bias domains suggests that every single decision-maker—no matter how senior—has flawed, less-than-rational decision processes. The unaided human brain is not that great a decision engine unless it has made the same decision many times and learned from its mistakes. This means that major decisions should rarely be made solely by the CEO or any other single individual. A variety of individuals should be consulted in decisions, with a systematic process for sampling their perspective.
Great leaders lead with questions, not with answers. With that said, if you want better strategic thinkers in your organization, not to mention innovators, then questioning is where it starts.
Greater challenges ahead for those who don’t ask questions
Uncertainty is the norm, how do we cope with it? To start, we can anticipate and make peace with it. The next step is to consider what we don’t know yet by asking questions. For example, while we’ve been talking about social business for more than a few years, we’re just barely entering the mainstream of this trend.
But, most established companies have yet to consider what “social business” looks for them. The kicker is, most of the ones I’ve talked to, they think it’s about social media. This is wrong because they fail to consider the changes and opportunities social technologies create in the way companies hire, communicate, collaborate, execute and innovate.
This is the larger picture.
Taking it a step further, as it relates to creating the conditions for employees to make decisions, because of geographical location, some organizations benefit from diversity in their ranks. But, for others who may not be located in innovation hubs where diversity of thinking is expected, they have to create the conditions for cognitive diversity to flourish.
If you are like me, located in a non-risk taking environment, you won’t get the benefits of cognitive diversity if don’t let people question the status quo. Much less create a capability for innovation.
Today, and at all times, thought diversity is a leadership imperative for various reasons. Chief among them is the fact that the global workforce is shifting to the east or their respective country, taking their talent with them. Even though cloud technologies add a new dimension to innovation by enabling us to collaborate with anyone from anywhere in the world, there’s nothing like face to face contact to get the creative juices going.
A virtual workforce, collaboration without boundaries, and other trends make innovating an exponential, but not insurmountable, challenge for bigger companies. Small upstarts are using these trends to their advantage, leaving bigger companies in the dust. The next generation of innovators come from the world of online gaming, where players collaborate with others players who are scattered around the world to accomplish game goals.
This behavior translates to a different way to getting things done in the workplace.
Are most companies prepared to work as agile as the new generation work? I don’t think so. And the reason is very simple: established companies fail to ask questions that anticipate great challenges.
What can companies do to anticipate great challenges?
Don’t look for answers, ask questions
For me, it means deliberately asking myself questions and write them down. To do this, I scan my environment, be it people, texts, books, videos, audio, for interesting questions. I take these and add them to my Question Bank, either in my Moleskine notebook or Evernote.
Below is my notebook full of questions that I collect:
Bottom line: Asking questions is a key innovation skill, and the best way to create the habit of asking them is by taking the time to sit down, grab a piece of paper and write down some questions. It doesn’t get any easier than that 🙂