How to come up with the right questions to ask

Edited excerpt from Use Catalytic Questioning to Solve Significant Problems by Hal Gregersen:

Catalytic Questioning incorporates five simple, unconventional steps to help change our questions — and creatively solve significant problems both in our personal and professional lives:

Step 1: Find a white board or flip chart where your team can do its question-centric work. (For what it’s worth, standing up seems to jumpstart better questions than sitting down.)

Step 2: Pick a problem that your team cares about intellectually and emotionally. Double check to make sure that the problem (or opportunity, for the optimists of the world) is one that you honestly don’t have an answer to.

Step 3: Question everything. Engage in pure question talk, with one team member writing down each question verbatim. This gives everyone the chance (especially introverts) to see each question, reflect a bit, and then create even better ones. Don’t give preambles to the questions and don’t devote any time or energy to answering them. Just ask as many questions as you can. Go for at least 50, perhaps 75. But don’t give up when your mind goes blank around question 35. Savor the momentary dead space and continue the search for even better, more provocative questions, which will come with patience and persistence. It usually takes 10 to 20 minutes to exhaust a group’s questioning capacity. Push for exhaustion.

Step 4: Decide which questions on your list seem most “catalytic,” or which ones hold the most potential for disrupting the status quo. Focus on a few questions that your team honestly can’t answer but is ready and willing to investigate. Winnow your questions down to three or four that truly matter.

Step 5: Get to work! Find some answers.

(1) The power of this approach is that it separates the process of coming up with questions from prioritizing them or answering them. This is important, because often a bad question contains the kernel of a great question, and you won’t get to the great question without first coming up with the bad question.
(2) This reminds me of Seth Godin’s use of exhaustive lists to get unstuck. Since reading Seth’s post, I’ve used exhaustive lists in Seeking Alpha to brainstorm answers to questions or solutions to problems. I’ve found that using exhaustive lists to answer a question is successful because it separates coming up with ideas from evaluating them. Bad ideas are worth listing, because they often lead to great ideas.
(3) The net result is a four step process: (i) Come up with an exhaustive list of questions. (ii) Prioritize them. (iii) Come up with an exhaustive list of answers to the top questions. (iv) Prioritize the best answers. This is extraordinarily powerful. It helps you to ask the right questions and come up with the best answers to them.
(4) Thank you Seth Godin and Hal Gregersen.

2 thoughts on “How to come up with the right questions to ask

  1. Pingback: Asking good questions | Ablorde Says

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