At age four, we’re fueled with curiosity, asking thousands of questions to better grasp what’s going on around us. Already we are aware, at a very fundamental level, that questioning helps us feel our way around a situation and develop entirely new ways of engaging with the world.
It isn’t long, however, before we enter an educational system that rewards answers more than questions. Consider that the average child between six- to 18-years old asks only one question per one-hour class per month. Contrast that with the average teacher, who peppers kids with 300 to 600 questions a day and waits an average of one second for each reply, and you have a recipe for what I call the “Global Questioning Crisis.”
As adults, many leaders perpetuate this answer-centric culture, playing it safe as they get things done. But, based on my research and firsthand conversations with the most renowned leaders of our time, high-impact innovators know that they must question to disrupt, or risk being disrupted. As such, they sustain this critical skillset, not just by asking more questions, but by identifying the “hot” questions – ones that are provocative, emotional and downright uncomfortable – while also encouraging those around them to be passionate about the same. Finally, they actively pursue answers to these hot questions by leveraging several key discovery skills – observing, networking, experimenting, and associational thinking.
For these leaders, questioning is not a means to an end, but the creative intersection where a whole new solution – an innovative moment of truth – can catch fire.
Leading through questions
Every year, Cedar Citrus, a co-op citrus farm in South Africa owned by ALG Estates, received frequent visits from a troop of baboons even though the fruit was not yet ripened. Strangley, the baboons tended to frequent one tree more than any other. One year, instead of grumbling about the pestering baboons, Andries Fickster, a worker on the farm, asked, “Why do the baboons keep coming back to this one tree?” He knew even the hungriest baboons were picky eaters and would not eat sour fruit so he compared the fruit to the trees around it. Although the skin was green, the fruit inside was ripe and sweet. Fickster brought this knowledge to the owners, Alwyn and Gerrit van der Merwe and, instead of ripping out the tree to get rid of the raiding baboons, they asked, “How can we use this?”
Read the full post at Fortune.
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.