- Living in the Question — The First Step to Finding Answers
By Joe Gammal
How can I prepare my kids to thrive in a rapidly and ever-changing world?
How can I better help my clients build a sustainably innovative company?
How can I make the idea of Deliberate Synergy contagious?
These were some of the questions I had on my mind as I arrived at this year’s Creative Problem Solving Institute’s annual conference (CPSI) . Each year, practitioners and enthusiasts alike gather to exchange areas of expertise. It was a special year for me. Not only was I launching aspects of a new program called Deliberate Synergy (a deep dive into innovative teams and collaborative relationships), I was also there with my 9-year old son, Lucas, by my side.
The first was an incredible learning experience with my son. To the Jet Blue attendant, Lucas said, “This is my first business trip with my Dad.” He wasn’t just going along for the ride. He participated in his own part of the conference called Youthwise, dedicated to creating the next generation of innovators and problem solvers. It was outstanding and his sense of empowerment soared.
The second gift was a greater appreciation for the power of a guiding question. One of the conference leads, a kindred spirit in the field, talked about the power of a well-framed question to guide our thinking and behaving even if the “solutions” are seemingly beyond reach.
In the many Synectics programs we teach on innovative teamwork, we divide questions into four types:
(1) Questions that genuinely seek clarification
(2) Questions that hide an idea
(3) Questions that mask rejections
(4) Questions that define a path of discovery
The first three types show up often in group interactions. While questions for clarification can be valuable for stimulating thinking, the far more frequent hidden ideas or masked rejections tare pause for caution. An idea hidden within a question can be easily lost, while a rejection masked in a question can kill an idea and risk damaging the collaborative field or atmosphere. Instead, we encourage participants to offer their ideas directly, and their concerns only if an idea is chosen and in a language that encourages problem solving the concern. We call this “How to language.” When done with positive intention, it puts our brain in problem solving mode and it turns a masked rejection into the fourth type of question — Questions that define a path of discovery.
This fourth type is, indeed, the most valuable of all. These are the guiding questions that define a challenge or a journey of wonder and curiosity, of action and learning. A question like this opens up and attracts possibility that might not have previously existed. It frames a quest that attracts the answers – a multitude or fabric of answers rather than one solution.
When we train ourselves to frame a guiding question the answer to which is not immediately clear, and then “live in” that question for a period of time, we find ourselves looking for the many ways it could be answered – small and large, simple and complex. We don’t rush to one solution. Our unconscious mind works on it even while our attention is elsewhere. When we live in a question, we might eventually see hundreds of little ways forward that, over time and taken together, will advance us down the path.
For me, as I lived with the three questions at the top, I realized that they are all lenses to a larger question about the relationships we create in all aspects of our lives. In other words, the larger question may be,“How can I help the world live more collaboratively, more innovatively, more happily together?” That’s when it hit me. Perhaps one solution is to look for ways to integrate into a single effort the work of creating Resilient Kids, teams that operate with Deliberate Synergy and organizations that are Sustainably Innovative. How to advance both our clients AND the children of our clients at the same time? Now that would be synergy! That’s a question worth living in…and, if it was anything like the feelings and experiences I had with Lucas a few weeks ago at CPSI, it’s a question worth answering. Stay tuned.
What are the questions that might define the paths of your discovery? Take the time to frame them, and then the time to simply live in them. It’s the first step to finding the answers.