If anybody tells you that they have the answer, then probably don’t understand the question
This is how the late and great LK Prahalad ( Competing for the Future, Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid ) put it. I now go back and back to this simple reflection after weeks of corporate speeches in different parts of the world. We are desperate for answers. Indeed, bosses ask for them. This is not bad in itself. The problem is that today we are taking less and less time to formulate and reformulate the questions.
We have been taught (general education, management education) that we need to have very good answers; this is what a good manager and leader is about. We have in parallel lead to believe that the questions will always be obvious, will always come up in front of you. Indeed, they may be given by your leaders! So, what is the problem? The emphasis is in the answering, or at least biased towards the answer. The questions are a given.
In that journey of education and self-reinforcing praxis we have not quite mastered the questioning. Let alone the re-framing of questions, which is a simple ingredient, an A,B,C of Critical Thinking. The question may look like X. It is also a good question, or appears to be; it is a legitimate question. But what if the question were Y or Z? What would be the alternative questions to what it may seem a fairly robust one? Just this simple practicing makes a lot of difference, to yourself and the way you ‘re-learn to think’ and the teams.
People who take a critical view of this Critical Thinking, complain (most often without having even tried) that this will lead to recycling and even paralysis. The trick is not to agonise and delay but to exercise the discipline of ‘thinking the alternatives’ of the questions, if anything to see if these would lead to completely different answers. Only this discipline may let you see that the original question many not be as robust or unequivocal or cut in stone as it sounded. The whole ‘delay’ may be of a minute. But that there is a life of difference between doing it or not.
Again and again, critics or not, I come back to the fundamental: leadership is more about the questions than producing beautifully made answers. Answers have become a commodity. It does not take much to produce lost of them. The intellectual power is the questioning.
Leadership is also about the practice of the incredible powerful ‘I don’t know’.
And as I put it before , even better, I don’t know, and, by the way, I don’t think you know either’. The latter being a gem and a fast track to your next team building. Try it.