I like to think of blog posts as a space for reflection.
So I invite you to read the following short sentences with a pause of silence in between so that they can sink in and ignite further questions.
Questions are a doorway into learning.
Questions are a doorway into discovery.
Questions are a doorway into evolution.
Questions drive our lives.
Questions answer questions.
In Mandarin Chinese the word “wen ti” 问题 means question as well as problem. Then, we would use the same words when we say “I have a question” and “I have a problem”. The person listening to this would need extra context/emotions shown to interpret whether they have to answer a question or deal with a problem.
In the English language, we rarely use the word question to refer to a problem even if one of the definitions of problem by Merrian-Webster dictionary is “a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution”.
We tend to see the word problem with the lenses of “something is wrong” however, afterall a problem is a question of some sort. And this is what I wanted to get to. The peculiarity of the Chinese language took me into an inquiry of how I deal and formulate the deep questions I ask myself. “Am I willing to sit with my questions with the same depth I would sit to deal with a problem?”; “Am I looking for a quick and shallow answer or am I willing to spend the time and depth it takes to ask a question about the problem at hand?”
And also, “How much intention and awareness do I bring to formulating these questions?; “How to ask these deeper questions skilfully, so that I am taken into a rich reflection and/or conversation?”
Before going into the pragmatism of some hints to formulate powerful questions, there are two elements I find crucial: we have to be willing to invest the energy it takes and commit to the practice.
Below I share valuable insights from Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs on “the art of powerful questions” that have enriched my understanding of how to craft questions that make me go deep and motivate others to do so too.
“By understanding and consciously considering the three dimensions of powerful questions, we can increase the power of the questions we ask and, as a result, increase our ability to generate insights that help shape the future” (Brown, Isaacs and Vogt 2003)
One of the dimensions is construction: starting with what if; why; how; what stimulate more reflective thinking and the conversations -within our minds or with others- triggered are most likely to get to a deeper level than the questions that point to a yes/no answer; questions using either/or; or questions starting with when; where; who or which.
Another element to take into account are the words we use. It is important to be aware of how words can shift the direction of our inquiry: “What can I do in this situation?” won’t, most likely, take us down the same path as “What can I learn in this situation?.
When it comes to the dimension of scope, it is helpful to stay within our circle of influence, in the sense of asking something that we feel we have a say about. For instance “How can I best manage my personal finances?” as opposed to “How can I manage the world economic crisis?”.
Last but not least, comes the dimension of assumptions, bringing any assumptions around the questions to light, will positively affect the power of the question. The question of “Whose fault is it and what do we do with the problem?” is somehow assuming mistakes and blame. Being aware of the personal narratives that underlie questions is -in any situation- highly helpful not only to ask powerful questions but to avoid blind spots.
And what has all of this to do with leadership for change?
Leadership is about stepping into the situation at hand with presence, self-awareness and integrity. I dare to say that if we are not willing to ask ourselves deep and powerful questions about what elements hinder our capacity to be present; about who are we, what our values are and what we stand for, we are not committed to enact a leadership that can question the status quo, a leadership that can bring about change.
Let’s play with questions!