Asking Better Questions

Something to read

In a world where people are obsessed with always having the right answer, Marliee Adams suggests that instead perhaps we should be obsessed with finding the right question.

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life

I knew this book was going to be good when I used a technique I read in the introduction with a client and it worked wonders.

Written as a leadership fable it follows the story of Ben, an engineer who has just taken a role at the ailing QTec. After a disastrous start he is just about to hand in his resignation when his CEO gives him 6 weeks to turn things around as long as he works with an executive coach. He slowly learns that there is more power in finding the right questions rather than always having the right answers.


Note: I am a member of the amazon affiliates programme. If you click on the book cover and then decide to buy the book I get a small commission from Amazon at no additional cost to you.

Something to hear

Often the best way to come up with new ideas is to pretend you have a clean slate and ask yourself:

“If we were creating this today what would it look like?”

That’s what Stephen Dubner of Freakanomics Radio did with his series Earth 2.0 – a thought experiment to explore how you would design institutions and systems differently, if you got to do it over again.

It’s amazing when you think many of the systems we have in place today were created centuries ago, but are so entrenched they are hard to change. Like the reason Brits drive on the left and Americans on the right. You’ll have to listen to find out why, but it has something to do with daggers.

Earth 2.0: What Would Our Economy Look Like? (Ep. 283)

Image by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay


Something to try

“Goals transform a random walk into a chase.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

How I use an everyday walk to do my best thinking
One of my complaints when I was in corporate life is that I never had any time to sit and think about things. It’s not something you can just do at your desk, kick back with feet up and ponder the challenges of the business.

The funny thing is, when I first went freelance, I still didn’t seem to have much time to think either. I do my best and freshest thinking when I’m walking, alone and unplugged. I was doing a lot of walking, but instead of thinking I was filling my ears with with podcasts (true crime is my guilty pleasure).

Street Wisdom
So to kick start a new habit I signed up to Street Wisdom, a social enterprise with a mission to bring inspiration to every street on earth. You can sign up to free guided walks all around the world (I went to one in Covent Garden) or download an audio file to go it alone.

Their philosophy is that answers are everywhere. When you take time to slow down and notice your environment new answers emerge to questions you are grappling with.

I was so inspired after my walk, a full 2.5 hours completely unplugged, that I decided to experiment with the using the techniques more often.

Walking with a purpose
Now every time I walk down to the train station I pose myself a question like:

  • How can I bring greater creativity to my work?
  • What more can I be doing for my clients?
  • How could I be helping men support women better in the workplace?

Then I forget about the question and instead tune into what is going on around me, noticing the colours of the leaves changing, the movement of the cars through an intersection and more often than not something inspires new thinking.

Once on the train I note down my thoughts and if I’m in the flow I continue my thinking and if not I
give myself permission to listen to a podcast episode instead. I’m getting the best of both worlds.

Photo by Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash

Something to ask

A note on questions and thinking
Have you ever been on the other end of a que’jestion?
You know the ones they often start with:

  • Have you thought of ….?
  • Do you think that if …?
  • What about if you tried …?

They are suggestions of what the speaker thinks you should do disguised very helpfully as a question. The problem being that despite the speakers very kind intentions, they tend to cause a defensive or shame response that shuts down thinking rather than encouraging it.

So this month I encourage you to notice the kinds of questions you ask. Are you using que’jestions or do your questions start with how, what, where, when and who. I’ve intentionally left out why, in some circumstances it can cause a defensive reaction and it really extends your thinking to find ways of asking questions without it!