Most of us live in the world of “how”. We dwell on solutions to problems, we argue about which of two or three ways to proceed or positions to support. We are bombarded with “sound bites” which polarize us into selecting one of two opposing opinions and deepening our belief in one or the other. We get frustrated and see ourselves worlds apart. However, we may be a lot closer than we think. We just haven’t paid enough attention to why we are trying to do it instead of how we are going to do it.
By asking “why might we want to….?” of a problem we are pursuing (how might we make better green stripes in our soap bar?), we often discover the real problem we should be trying to solve (how might we connote refreshment in our soap bar?). We find ourselves sprung out of the box, with many more and less restrictive options available.
This week’s Minsight:
Most of us have been raised in an educational and cultural system in which we are taught to listen and absorb rather than how to think. Our child-like ability to ask questions to inquire withers away as we enter school. We learn how to give answers to problems posed to us. As a leader, perhaps try to use “why might we want to?” questioning the next time you find your team spinning its wheels trying to solve the same problem over and over.
The team was stuck. The members kept on saying “we haven’t got our chip breakage testing finished. We keep getting inconsistent results. Shipping from some cities, breakage is slightly better than how we do it now, and from other cities it is not quite as good. Also, consumers in some cities like a little more breakage and some like a little less. So we cannot recommend this new way of loading trucks until we are really sure. So we are continuing our testing”.
Senior management had been waiting for over two years for the team to come forward with a recommendation on the vendor’s proposed new method . $12 Million savings were hanging in the balance and some frustration was building with lack of progress. Another year was looming.
Here is what happened. In answer to “What’s stopping us from making the recommendation today?“ the first replies “we do not have our breakage testing finished” and “we are unsure which breakage level consumers prefer”. After asking the same question several more times, another answer finally emerged “we are afraid to make the recommendation without being completely sure; we are afraid of being accused of being risky and wrong by senior management”.
This revelation led to the creative challenge: “How might we write the recommendation so that it explains the risk and asks management to share the risk with us?”
The recommendation was approved the next day with $12 Million to the bottom line immediately!
This week’s Minsight: When the creative question “What’s stopping us?“ is repeatedly asked, obvious facts are forthcoming at first and then unexpected and more hidden or subconscious facts follow. As a leader, try to make it safe for people to say what really is on their mind so that accurate solutions can more quickly be implemented.