2019: A new year calls for new questions – Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Psychology Today

The New Year is right around the corner and individuals and organizations alike are churning out new goals in a mass ritualized frenzy. The problem is that both on a company-wide level and on a personal level many of these new benchmarks will never be reached.

Ask yourself this: Did you really lose 10 pounds last year? Did you grow your business by 5 percent each quarter? So instead of making a list of brutal stretch goals and then beating yourself up for not achieving them, here’s a better plan for 2019. Ditch the goals and get to work on a list of compelling questions. Yes, questions.

Questions have a curious power to unlock new and positive behavior changes in every part of our lives. They can open up new directions for progress no matter what we are struggling with. My interviews with more than 200 of the world’s most creative leaders—including well-known business executives such as Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Marc Benioff at Salesforce.

Debbie Stirling at GoldieBlox, and Tony Hsieh from Zappos—show that when you are operating at the edge of uncertainty, trying to figure out a better question is a far more productive way forward than trying to figure out a better answer. The right questions can surface a false assumption and give us the energy to do something about it. My research has shown that the best questions, in whatever setting, turn out to have some fundamental things in common.

Good questions are, for example, recursive—that’s how Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, sees it. Ask yourself, like he did, what question is worthy of my perpetual engagement?  What question is so consuming that it is worthy of company-wide repetitive data collection?

A good recursive question will open up new conversations. Questions such as “How can we build and maintain a sustainably creative culture?” at Pixar or “How can we save our home planet?” at Patagonia are powerful, focusing and fueling the creative energy of people inside each company.

Recursive questions such as these are therefore generative. They open up space for people to do their best thinking. They don’t put anyone on the spot, demanding correct, often predetermined answers under the threat of public humiliation. They invite people down an intriguing new line of thought that offers some promise of solving a problem they care about. Indeed, they have a paradoxical quality of being utterly surprising in the moment they are asked, but in retrospect seem blindingly obvious. In other words, they carry with them a quality of inevitability without being inevitable at all.

Read the full post at Psychology Today

Hal Gregersen is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

One thought on “2019: A new year calls for new questions – Hal Gregersen

  1. Hi,
    You have motivated me with this wonderful post. We have to start to ask very uncomfortable questions as we seek to move forward in life. Most start-up entrepreneurs will find it soothing.
    Thanks a million times.

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