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Posts tagged ‘Critical Thinking’

designing powerful questions

As a facilitator, questions are one of the tools of my trade. Using the same questions every time creates boredom, dullness, and decreases creativity. I work to create effective questions in the moment. And, one of the questions I am asked in return is, “How do you create good questions?” The World Cafe process suggests that there are three dimensions to creating effective questions:

  1. Scope or scale of the questions
  2. Assumptions in the questions
  3. Construction of the questions

Scope starts with clarity of purpose and intention. Begin by asking yourself what is the purpose and intention of the interaction. Scope should set a context, create a boundary (scale), and be relevant. Without scope, people are overwhelmed, shutting down the opportunity for conversation. For example: How can we cut our budget? or How can we create world peace? are questions with a broad context and no boundaries. Rephrase with scope in mind: What are the opportunities we have in the next week, month, and year stop doing things that no longer serve our clients and start doing something new? How do you create peaceful time for reflection for yourself and your work group within your meeting process?

Assumption starts with understanding of objective and audience. Since people respond to the assumptions made in the question, ask yourself what outcomes are desired and who will be part of the conversation. Assumptions should provoke inspiration and forward movement toward the purpose and intention. Notice the different assumptions in these questions: “What did you learn from our project planning experience?” compared to “What are you learning now from our project planning experience that relates to the current project?” The assumption is that learning is continually happening and has current application.

Construction uses language and shaping. The word chosen to open the question exists on a continuum from less to more powerful.  The less powerful questions can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”  The next level questions begin with “when” or “who,” the next with “how” or “what. ” “Why” questions stand at the top of the continuum. They are special because “why” questions can either provoke defensiveness and reenforce beliefs or they can evoke curiosity and imagination.

Once the opening word is chosen, use active language to shape the direction. The example above applies where past tense “did you learn” is replaced with “are you learning now.” Active language can invite change, innovation, or imagination: Based on our conversation, what change will you make this week in how you structure meeting processes? What are you thinking or feeling now based on our conversation? What are your current concerns about this subject?

Powerful, effective questions increase the value of our conversations through focus on purpose, intent, relevance, and action. Participants engage and connect. Powerful questions can change the thought patterns of individuals and teams, moving beyond business as usual.

What strategies do you use to create effective questions? Do you have a “root” word or words that you use when building effective questions?

Provocative Leadership: Beyond “Best Practices” to “Next Practices”

Here is an excerpt from a longer article:

Have you thrown out your strategic plan yet? If you made one several months ago, I’m willing to guess that you have. The landscape of reality has already changed … . So now what? Here’s a story-poem, “Brief Thoughts on Maps,” to consider:

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a lot about maps
according to which life is on its way somewhere or other,
told us this story from the war
due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
immediately, snowed for two days and the unit
did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched
his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now. 1

When faced with an unfamiliar situation, the soldiers discovered that “any map” can be useful. Why? A map leads to confidence and action. You take steps forward, re-check the map, learn, make adjustments, and take more steps. As you re-check the map, you look around, surveying the environment. You re-orient to the reality that is. You learn, assess, and consider options. You make decisions about what to try next. You embrace error and uncertainty; yet you still chose to take the next step.

Provocative leadership is not about authority. Provocative leadership is about …

Click here to read more about Provocative Leadership

What are your ideas about “best practices” vs. “next practices?”

Imagining New Maps

1Holub, M. (1977) ‘Brief Thoughts on Maps’, Times Literary Supplement, 4 February 4, p. 118.

Things we know well

According to NHTSA, 52% of vehicle accidents happen within one mile of home; 99% happen within 50 miles of home. I would argue that it is due to the quality of our attention. Whether we’re driving, typing on the computer, or playing an instrument, our skills learned through repetition become automatic.

When I see a niece or nephew for the first time in a year, I’m surprised at the changes they’re making. I say, “Wow, you’re growing up!” But with kids I see on a daily basis, growth is more easily measured at birthdays or when suddenly the kid is as tall as I am. Whether watching kids grow or noticing whether we’re clicking “Yes” or “Ok,” a familiar environment diminishes our awareness of change.

When skills become automatic and awareness diminishes, it is easier to make mistakes. Accidents happen. We have a fender bender. We delete the wrong file. How can we decrease the amount of unintentional mistakes and accidents?

One method is to create a checklist and use it. If you can, build in “undo” options  that allow you to go back a step or two. If you can’t go back, build additional options into the decision tree that allow either correction or lessened impact of the error. Encourage a buddy system, where coworkers or friends double-check decisions as you go through the checklist. Be present as you perform skills and as you run to the grocery store.

What other strategies do you use to increase your present moment awareness?

P.S. The photo is of the sky reflecting on the hood of the truck.

Excellence is a habit

Off the grid

I’ve been “off the grid” for a few days. It was enforced by being in several National Parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone. Places with no internet service and no cellular service. Places where there is no dopamine rush to the brain from the instant gratification of looking up an answer to a question, checking email, or immediately calling someone with information.

The feeling of calmness that came from disconnecting from the digital world is starting to fade as the demands of life appear again. But the time to think, to really “be” with family, and to stand in awe of the natural world brought renewal and new ideas.

As I was catching back up with the blogs I follow, I discovered Daniel Pink’s recent post: The Genius Hour: How 60 minutes a week can electrify your job. He writes about the power of taking one hour a week for improving skills or seeking out new ideas. The credit union in the story makes it happen by putting it on the schedule, having the boss pitch in, and getting the ideas implemented and skills used. Pink includes links to articles about Google’s innovation time and Atlassian’s Fedex Days.

Since I can’t live in the National Parks, I will remember that one hour a week can make a difference. And, I’m considering ideas from How Genius Works about how to best use that hour .

What would you do with one hour a week to dedicate to mastering a skill or learning something new? What difference would it make in your organization if each person had one hour to dedicate?

Improving your brainstorming sessions

The quickest way to improve brainstorming sessions is to put away anything with a keyboard.

Why? research in neurobiology demonstrates that using our hands to write and draw transforms experience. Manipulating a writing instrument activates multiple neural pathways: visual, spatial, sensory, and motor including both sides of our brain as we process graphical and factual data with multiple senses. Drawing on a flip chart or paper with colored markers to draw images alongside the text activates additional neural pathways. Employing a writing instrument, creates attention and focus as we form letters and pictures, looking at where the instrument touches the paper. Even the hand we’re not writing with is active in keeping the paper aligned.

[With a typewriter …] the word no longer passes through the hand as it writes and acts authentically but through the mechanized pressure of the hand. The typewriter snatches script from the essential realm of the hand – and this means the hand is removed from the essential realm. The word becomes something ‘typed.’ … Mechanized writing deprives the hand of dignity in the realm of the written word and degrades the word into a mere means for the traffic of communication. Besides, mechanized writing offers the advantage of covering up one’s handwriting and therewith one’s character. – Martin Heidegger

Writing with pen, pencil, or marker is an embodied experience that increases learning and generative thought processes. What impacts of this research can you imagine for writers? Educators? Trainers? Strategists? Designers?

For inspiring ideas on going analog in brainstorming, check out Duarte’s photos and blog post about advanced stickynoting.

Can imagination be taught?

I’ve been writing about the Stanford and their design thinking process. In a new article in the Stanford alumni magazine, President John Hennessy is quoted,

It’s much harder to teach creativity. [It involves] multiple routes, multiple approaches and, obviously, it’s virtually impossible to test whether or not you’ve succeeded. The measure of success is likely to come long after, not unlike many of the other things we try to teach: To prepare students to be educated citizens, to prepare them for dealing with people from diverse and different walks of life. Those are things that play out over a long time, whether or not we’ve done a good job.

But the core curriculum supports just that: learning to be imaginative and creative. Students learn techniques for “interviewing, observing, suggesting, tinkering, reviewing and then perhaps completely restarting two, three or four times.”

What are you taking time to observe? Who are you interviewing to understand their perspective on working or doing business with your organization? What will you try, test, and re-design until you get it right – a new product, an improved process, a customer experience? Who you do you meet with regularly who is outside of your industry or discipline that can stretch your ideas and imagination?

Sparks Fly: Can imagination be taught? – Bootcamp Bootleg – Research by Design


Avoiding questions

Do you avoid asking questions? People avoid questions for many reasons. We don’t want to make other uncomfortable. We might disrupt the meeting agenda. We worry that it’s a stupid question. Or ask ourself, “What if no one knows the answer?”

One strategy for handling these question stoppers is to begin the question with a phrase that lets everyone know that you’re aware of the situation, but are still going to ask.

Some examples of introductory phrases:

• I might not be wording this well, but …
• This may need a separate conversation, but …
• I know we may not have all the answers yet, but …
• I’m wondering about …
• I’m not clear about …

Whether you’re in a meeting or answering an email, if you find yourself hesitating to ask a question, don’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect question, consider adding an introductory phrase and ask the question.

Needed: More data or the right question
Creating a space for critical thinking

Wrong is right

How can you tell if your organization is a learning organization? Or perhaps the question this year is, “Is yours an innovative organization?”

Here’s a one sentence test that will answer either question, “Are you allowed to make mistakes?”

If you can’t make, identify, and acknowledge mistakes, it is impossible to learn or innovate. Laurence Prusak of NASA makes the following observation:

If you pay a substantial price for being wrong, you are rarely going to risk doing anything new and different because novel ideas and practices have a good chance of failing, at least at first. So you will stick with the tried and true, avoid mistakes, and learn very little. … What would happen if we all accepted that being wrong is as much a part of being human as being right, and especially that errors are essential to learning and knowledge creation?

A great question! How do you and your organization handle errors and mistakes? To err is human. To intentionally go beyond the disappointment and embarrassment of a mistake is to intentionally seek learning and innovation, change and growth.

Out of the ordinary

My teacher got rid of my imagination…

Last night I was working with a class of kindergarten and first graders. Walking around the table, I observed that one of them had taken the coloring picture page, turned it over to the blank side, and was drawing his own picture.

I commented, “That is a very interesting picture. You’re really using your imagination. Will you tell me the story that goes with the picture?”

Immediately, we were interrupted by a sixth grader, who was working as an assistant. She stated matter-of-factly, “My teacher got rid of my imagination.”

I absorbed this amazing statement and asked, “How did your teacher do that?”

“Well – first semester, he told us we could only write about facts and to get rid of our imaginations.  So I did.  But now (second semester), he told us we need to use our imaginations to write stories; but I can’t seem to find mine anymore.”

I’m still reflecting on this interaction, seeing implications on many different levels …

Orbiting the Giant Hairball – Thought 3

Potential energy

Many of my friends have been asking me if I’ve made a New Year’s resolution. And, as a logical, linear thinker, I’ve been pondering how best to respond! The turning of the calendar seems like a logical time to think about where we’ve been and where we want to go as individuals and organizations. Not only is it a “new year,” it is half-way between the season where we have the least and most amount of daylight.

Evaluating and taking stock can imply either that all was well or that things had gotten wildly off track. As is often the case, the reality lies somewhere in-between. In recent posts, I’ve listed some questions for reflection. As I watched the sunset last night, I considered another idea. What if each thing we do not only delivers value in the present, but creates potential for the future? How would we embrace and leverage the potential energy? How would we use that energy to generate momentum needed for adapting to change and creating new ideas?

In the physical world, gravity acts to increase potential energy. To further the analogy, what are the relationships and market forces that can multiple our potential?

The other kind of potential energy in the physical world is elastic potential energy. The further something is stretched, the greater the potential energy. Again, how will we stretch this year to increase our potential?

We as individuals and organizations are standing at the top of the proverbial 2011 hill. How will you use and build potential?

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