Forget what you learned at school – try creative conversations

We are taught at school to think logically, in linear steps; if A then B. We are encouraged to look for problems, to conduct ‘root-cause analysis’ of failings and problems. To analyse and learn from past patterns and to provide clear explanations of what went wrong, and then to suggest the steps required to fix the problem and mitigate against similar issues in future.

But sometimes this does not work.

It does not work because today’s problems are becoming increasingly complex, confusing and unexpected. Sometimes we need to create solutions for problems that are ill-defined. Sometimes, if we want to make leaps in our industry, we need to innovate to create progress.

Innovation might start with a problem, but may well start with an insight, the identification of an opportunity.

Open conversations can help develop these opportunities. Good questions, and even ‘stupid’ questions can lead people to a deeper understanding of issues, and better resolutions.

Leaders don’t have to know all the details to ask open questions:

  • “What would happen if we made it to work as badly as it possibly could?”
  • “How would you tackle this if it wasn’t time sensitive?”
  • “If we could start all over again, what would you build instead?”
  • Leading good conversations means asking more of people by asking the questions that can help create new ways of thinking. To focus on issues, try variants of the following:
  • “What do you imagine our Operating Executive thinks is the most valuable skill you have?”
  • “How would the engineering team approach this?”
  • “Before we faced this challenge, what was different about our company / your team?”
  • “If we were really successful, what would we see going on around here?”
  • To search for and test solutions:
  • “What do you imagine your colleagues need to hear to believe in this solution?”
  • “If we explained this new way forward to team leaders across the company, what might they latch on to as a concern?”
  • “What one piece of advice would you give to make sure this happens the way we’ve envisaged?”



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