Your questions could be the answer

  |   Decision Making Print Friendly and PDF

“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”

~ Henry J. Kaiser

That’s as inspirational as can be, but if you want to get from the problem to the opportunity and on to success, you need to ask good questions. The questions you ask determine the answers you get. Here are some questions to ask when you confront a situation you’d like to change.

Ask questions to help define the situation

The common question is: What’s the problem?” Here are some better questions.

What’s the story of the problem? Start at the beginning and bring the story forward to today. You’ll discover things you won’t uncover any other way. Make this even more effective by creating a timeline of significant events.

Use the classic “5 Why” method from the Toyota Production System. When someone defines a problem, ask “Why is that a problem?” Keep asking “Why?” until you get to bedrock.

Have a system of questions to sharpen your ideas

Way back in the last century I learned the Kepner-Tregoe method for problem analysis. It’s really codified common sense, but don’t let that stop you. Here are the basic questions.

  • What is part of the problem? What is not?
  • When does the problem occur? When does it not occur?
  • Where does the problem occur? Where does it not occur?
  • What is the extent of the problem?

Opinions are different from facts

In the textbooks you start with the facts. In real life you start with opinions. When someone offers an opinion, challenge it. Ask: “How do you know?”

Not all solutions are equal

Most of the time, teams come up with a workable solution and implement it. It may work. But is it the best you can do? Go beyond the first right answer. Ask: “What else will work?” or “What else could we do?”

When in doubt, think like a five year old

Five year olds aren’t burdened with theories and preconceptions. When they don’t understand something they ask, “Why?” or they ask for more information or an example. It works for adults, too.

“You don’t invent the answers, you reveal them by finding the right question.”

~ Jonas Salk

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