Getting the Right Answer Needs the Right Question Part 2

Continued fromGetting the Right Answer Needs the Right Question... Part 1.

On the other end of the scale is under-thinking or not thinking about the question at all. Under-thinking will also give us the wrong question. The tendency is to not think at all and ask the questions we normally ask. We ask these questions not because of any specific reason. We ask them on autopilot and we have an expectation of the answer. Sometimes, it is a force of habit. We are just used to using these questions in that particular situation. This short-hand can be useful as a starting point but again the same principle applies, think whether will the question being asked give us the answer we need. We need to think about the question, the answers it may give and whether those answers are the ones we are looking for.
Using the questions that are normally used or automatically asked have a tendency to yield roughly the same answer. If the answers given haven't provided us with a good solution, perhaps it's time to ask different questions. There are several techniques that we can use as a starting point to re-approach a question
  • Change the focus of the question. If the question is general, make it more specific. If the question is more specific, make the question more general. For example, rather than asking what we tool we need, refocus on the more general goal of the purpose of the tool. Ask how can we do the job better or how can we do the job without the tool. If the question focused on the more general goal of achieving success, refocus on how to reach specific goals that define the success. 
  • Change the context. If the question is narrow, make the new question cover a wider area and areas that are noramlly off-limits to the question. Rather than trying to solve just that one part of the problem, ask the questions that will solve several pieces at the same time. Sometimes, the solution or at least a part of it, lies with other people. Another method is to remove information or change perspective of the question. Instead of asking how the task is supposed to executed, ask how should the task be executed.
  • Flip it / work backwards. Normally, we define the solution criteria and ask what would yield them or what would fit. Try reversing the process and look at the possibilities available and how each of them would fit as a solution. Rather than trying to come out with something new or something ideal, use the options available to us at that time and situation. The options can be evaluated individually and in combination. This is very useful when there is little time and few resources. By doing it this way, we can be open to other solutions that we normally wouldn't be thinking about.

Book Review of Brain Rules: Making Our Brains Work Better without an Upgrade

I was always fascinated in how the brain works. When first helping others start to use computers in their daily life, the first explanation that I gave was that the CPU was the "brains" of the computer. The analogy worked for a while. Even as users questioned as to how the computer worked, there were other parallels related to the brain or it's concepts. There was the memory, the input (our senses) and the output (our reactions and communication). However, it was an accepted fact that although the computer is faster, the human brain is much more complex and capable than the computer's brain.
Computer engineers also looked to the brain for inspiration. They introduced concepts like short term and long term memory. They were able to make computers think less accurately through fuzzy logic. And they made computers smaller and faster. But they still realized that they were far away from being able to recreate how the brain works.
When I realized my son has a mild learning disability, I became even more interested in understanding how the brain works. Not only, was I interested because I wanted to know more. I now wanted to know what I can do with that knowledge.
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School does not try to explain in detail how the brain works. It's main purpose is to bring the science of the understanding of the brain back to the people who own one. Dr. John Medina tries to make that knowledge useful for the rest of us. While the realm of understanding the brain is dominated by scientists, there is no reason why we can't benefit from that understanding. Rather than just focusing on finally understanding how exactly the brain works, scientists should also try to help normal people use the knowledge the scientists already have so far to make their lives better. Better still, use that knowledge to make other people's lives better.

Begin managing change by accepting change

Achieving optimal organizational management requires strong leadership. Strong leadership may achieve initial success but a strong management can sustain that level of success and meet oncoming challenges and a changing business environment. One of the most important skills for management is managing change. But in many organizations, there is a fear of change. And the fear is often subtle as well as deep seated.
I once worked at an office overlooking a major road into the city. It became a habit of everybody in the office to take a quick look out the window at the road. It was a force of habit. People would do that whether they were going anywhere out of the office or not. Sometimes they would pause for a few seconds. Perhaps to look down and feel smug upon the sorry souls in the almost perpetual traffic jam.
One day, a colleague looking out the window made a comment that the road was extraordinarily clear. I looked and noticed traffic was flowing smoothly for once. There were even brief periods where there was no cars on the road. His tone was of concern and he asked me what was up. I shrugged, said that I didn't know and moved on. The next day, the road was jam-packed again. We were walking together when he made the comment. He said, with a sense of relief, that road were back to normal.
I don't think he was wishing ill on the drivers that morning who had to wait to get in or out of the city. He was only expressing a sentiment we all have: we prefer things to be the way they are. When things are they way we expect them to be, we call it normal. It doesn't matter what that 'normal' is. In other words, he was wary of change. The concern was not on how a smoother traffic flow would affect the city. He wasn't at all thinking about how it's effect on the sanity of the us living and working there. His concern was simply aimed the change.
This is a very normal reaction. We are concerned of uncertainty. Change brings uncertainty. So it's in all of us to be suspicious of change. We have a natural tendency towards order, even if we differ on what order actually means to each of us. We like things to be in a certain way. Even when some people like disorder and prefer things to change, it would bother them when things stop changing and chaos changes into order. Change, whether good or bad, is always suspicious.
In Step4, as we are choosing the best solution to solve our problem, be careful of arguments against change. This is more so if we are working with others to solve our problem or if it is a common problem that we are trying to solve together. Look into whether arguments against a possible solution are based on the fear of change. While not all change is good, arguments based on the fear of change may not have any basis other than that fear itself. Sometimes, we don't like to do something because it will cause change or upset something else. We dislike it so much that we can't see the benefit that change brings. In fact, when we try to find reasons why we don't like a possible solution, we may not find any other reason other then the fact we dislike of the change that it brings.

Getting the Right Answer Needs the Right Question

Ask the question that will give you the answer you need. Simple, right? Why ask questions that don't give us  the answer. Common sense? Maybe. That statement wouldn't be necessary if we actually asked the questions that will give us the answers that we need. We don't pay enough attention to the questions being asked.  We need to think about the questions to be asked when solving problems.We need to spend some time on working out the questions that need to be asked.
There is a tendency to over-think it or to not think about it at all. The result is the same: The wrong question gets asked. The key thing to focus on is: are the questions going to give the answers that we are looking for?
Over-thinking a question will result in a question that will be formulated incorrectly. For example, do we ask the shop keeper how much sugar we need for the week? Why shouldn't we? They know more about sugar than us. We know that we should ask the people who know more about something than us to get a useful answer.
But it isn't about sugar, isn't it? The question is really about us or to be more exact, how much sugar we need. So the correct person to ask is ourselves. Think about how much sugar we have been using. We should ask ourselves when was the last time we bought sugar and how much. That will give us an estimate of how much sugar we will need for the week and how much to buy. We should also plan ahead and ask ourselves whether we will need more sugar than usual in the coming week.
The problem with the original approach was that we applied a concept that we know incorrectly. We wrongly applied something we know. We know that people who know more about something than us can give us the answer. Only we wanted to know more about us than about sugar. The store-keeper doesn't know how much sugar we need. They know how much sugar they have. Most likely, they will ask us questions. Based on our answers, they can give suggestions. In both of the correct approaches, we are giving the answers because the issue is about us, not about sugar.

Knowing when to walk away

When solving a problem we can get caught up in the moment. Sometimes the choices that we are aware of are not the only choices available to us. They may seems so because of what other people around us tell us. It could also be the only thing we can think of in that moment. Looking at the seconds ticking away on the clock only increases the pressure on us. Like the walls are coming in on us.
It is times like that this that walking away, just for a while, can be useful. We are not walking away from the problem. We are looking for space and time to think or in a way, not think. Time away from environment of the problem can offer new perspectives. During that time away, our focus is on something else. The brain is a wonderful thing. Even as we are focusing on other things, it is still processing experience and input that we have just had. While we go to get a drink or take in fresh air, it is still building links and associations. Think of it as our brain is subconsciously working on the problem.
When time is of the essence, a good way to get a fresh perspective and possibly change ours, is to find someone who has little specific knowledge on the problem we are facing but some general information on the subject matter related to the problem. They know something about the subject but may not be specifically about our problem. Begin by explaining to them the problem. They will have a lot of questions but that is the point. Their questions will not only make things more clear to them but also to you. They will provide an outside-looking-in second set of eyes to our problem. They will likely ask questions you may have never thought of. They may find options not yet visible us. Or their questions may sound silly but answering them will either eliminate options to you or maybe hint at different way of thinking about the problem. The very least is that interacting with them give us time for mind to focus on something else so that when we do look back we have slightly different perspective.
This process is moving us from Step3, coming out with possible solutions or Step4, choosing the best option back to Step2, describing the problem. It is still counts as a step forward because are become that much closer to a solution.

Book Review of The Myths of Innovation: Clearing the Air on What is Innovation

A few years ago, I was asked about innovation and what is innovation. Specifically, this group of people were asked to be innovative. That's hard when you don't know what innovation is. They were in a difficult situation. Everybody was talking about innovation and they may tried to describe it. But after so many different views and descriptions, they just can't seem to understand what it is. And trying to do something you know little about is very hard. It's even hard to fake.
The real problem was that the word innovation and the concept 'innovation' had been so misused and maligned that it would be really hard to tell them what it was they were looking for even if I could.
Then I focused them on why they were asked to be innovative. They told they they needed innovation and I found out why innovation was thought as the missing ingredient from their organization. Actually, their organization was actually quite successful. People went about work, things got done and money was made. However, it was all pretty boring stuff. People knew what their jobs were and how to do them. Senior management was worried that since everything was mundane, the staff would fall into sense of predictability or repeat a fixed set of patterns. They were worried that the staff would limit themselves to these patterns, to what they knew and stymie the growth of the company. In short, they believed or  were told that their organization lacked excitement.And they thought (or a consultant convinced them that) being innovative was the solution.
In reality, the senior management had mistaken excitement for passion. People didn't seemed to be passionate about what they were doing. They were also afraid that since things were 'boring', complacency had set in. People were ok doing their work, they were just not trying to find ways of doing better, faster and cheaper. In my opinion, they had not done Step2 correctly, they hadn't properly defined their problem.
In that process, I found this book and thought it might provide them with some insight. At first, I thought this book was about myths of innovation or rather mythical innovations. If the book gave some example of innovations and their inner workings, I could recommend it to them.
I was disappointed. The book kept telling me things I already know about innovation or the real innovative process. Instead of building up to innovation, it was deconstructing it. Then I realized my mistake. The book was about the myths of innovation, the things people thought were innovation or the things that people thought happened around innovations of our modern world. The book was suitable for them after all but for a different reason altogether, addressing the heart of their concern.
Essentially, it was about 'making sausages'. It revealed what really happened around modern innovations and the process that lead to them. It is not pretty. A lot of people assume that an innovative process creates innovation. It doesn't. Worse, our society tends to create heroes of inventors / innovators and simplify their stories so that it can be retold easily and inspire others.
This book uncovers the reality of innovation and innovators and provides a real look into what innovation really is and more importantly what it means.

Communicating Critically

It is hard dealing with problems ourselves. So why do most people choose to not share their problems? One of the biggest reasons is fear of being criticized. It's bad enough we are facing a problem and it's effects. Do we really need to hear someone else heap on the bad news? Especially once we have taken that all important step, Step1, that is to accept that we have a problem?
Sometimes we simply have to. We have to hear the bad news from someone else. Just to make it feel real. But also to get to the part where the good stuff is, the advice or help to solve the problem we are facing. However, if we were given an opportunity to give criticism, would there be a way to do it less painfully?