Question Burst … Questions are much more powerful than answers, says Hal Gregersen … the challenge for leaders is to ask better questions

January 18, 2020

At the core of an innovative and capable leader is the ability to ask catalytic questions that uncover false assumptions and lead them down productive, new paths. The Leader’s Dilemma suggests that leaders inherently are shielded from the information they need to do this effectively.

“The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless, if not dangerous, as the right answer to the wrong question.” said Peter Drucker.

Drucker’s insight has long been an inspiration for Hal Gregersen. An innovation and leadership guru, Hal is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. While Hal’s expertise expands across all areas of innovative leadership, asking the right questions cuts deeply across all of his work. He challenges organizations and individuals to question the way we think and act to build a better, more creative world.

Questions are the Answer

To grasp how leaders find and ask the right questions – ones that disrupt the world – Hal’s new book, “Questions are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and In Life” (Harper Collins, coming out later this year), builds on 200+ interviews with renowned business, technology, education, government, social enterprise, and artistic leaders.

This question-centric project surfaces crucial insights into how leaders build better questions to unlock game-changing solutions. The first article from the project -“Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More” (March/April 2017 Harvard Business Review) – explores how senior leaders can ask better questions to unlock what they don’t know they don’t know – before it’s too late.

The second article from the project – “Better Brainstorming: Focus on Questions, Not Answers, for Breakthrough Insights” (March/April 2018 Harvard Business Review) – outlines how his unique Question Burst™ method can help anyone solve problems faster and better by asking nothing but questions about a vexing challenge for four fast and furious minutes.

Hal is also founder of The 4-24 Project, an initiative dedicated to rekindling the provocative power of asking the right questions in adults so they can pass this crucial creativity skill onto the next generation

Question Bursts

The best and most innovative leaders, though, engage a set of tactics and habits to change the world in ways others rarely see. By employing the unique Question Burst methodology – an alternative to traditional brainstorming – individuals and leaders can drive purposeful change in their lives, workplaces, homes and communities.

However, you don’t need to be an executive of a Fortune 50 to benefit from the Question Burst™ approach to creating a catalytic question. The process simply allows one to concentrate on a problem—no matter how big or small—and examine alternative vantage points so they can arrive at a new and innovative solution. It takes just three simple steps, as an individual or a team:

  • Set the Stage – Select a challenge you care deeply about. Invite a few people to help you consider that challenge from fresh angles. Ideally, choose people who have no direct experience with the problem and whose worldview is starkly different from yours. In two minutes or less, share your problem with your partners.
  • Brainstorm the questions – Set a timer and spend the next four minutes collectively generating as many questions as possible about the challenge. Follow two key rules: Don’t answer any of the questions and don’t explain why you’re asking the questions. Go for at least 15-20 questions in four fast minutes. Write all the questions down verbatim, word for word as you hear them.
  • Identify a quest – and commit to it – Study the questions and select a few “catalytic” questions from the list, ones that hold the most potential for disrupting the status quo. Commit to pursuing at least one new pathway you’ve glimpsed – and do something about it as a truth seeker. Get to work and find some better answers.

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