Beautiful Questions

Always the beautiful answer
Who asks a more beautiful question.
E.E. Cummings
  1. How do we support organizations and people to thrive?
  2. Why do transitions have to be so difficult?
  3. Why do we conduct executive leadership searches in the social sector the way we do and why aren't we more successful?
  4. How might we narrow our work/life to focus only on the essentials... What are my essentials?

I have a new field guide - like any good field guide, it is tattered, marked-up and faithfully at my side. A More Beautiful Question - written by Warren Berger explores the power of inquiry and how deeply and thoughtfully using the art of questioning can lead to breakthrough solutions to challenging problems, innovative new ideas and unimagined opportunities. It is a go to source now as we navigate interesting and tricky challenges posed to us by our clients and for GForce Strategies.

Berger begins by questioning why we stop questioning as adults (questioning is a natural resource for children), why our educational systems are devised to get to an answer, and how our own limiting beliefs about "not knowing" or "getting it wrong" seriously impede our natural inclination of curiosity.

I once had a leadership role with a well-known and highly-respected organization. Most of the team members there were highly educated and trained in knowing the answer. I entered the role excited for the challenge but with a nagging doubt that I wasn't as smart as other team members despite the fact that I came with years of experience as a CEO and Executive Director. I was a non-traditional hire (risky and bold move on the board of directors) and came in asking many questions - some thoughtful, some basic. At some point, I began to doubt myself and push myself to know the answer thus shutting down the space of innovation and critical thinking. I was asked to have a plan (read answer) and pushed myself to do so, though instinctually I knew there was still value in asking the right questions.

I understand the value of having a clear sense of direction and actionable plan. I understand the importance of urgency. But not at the expense of asking essential questions. Ultimately if you invest in this type of thinking at the beginning, your result is better and longer lasting. And the best organizations and leaders are always asking thoughtful questions.

In the social sector (by the way, why is it that we refer to this incredibly powerful sector as non-profit or not-for-profit...who wants to be a "non" or "not"?), we are tackling some of the world's biggest and most entrenched challenges and still we get stuck in old practices and belief systems - we keep doing the same thing. As Berger states, "hence, well-meaning people are often trying to solve a problem by answering the wrong questions." And often we as leaders, minimize the importance of asking questions in our hast to do. Sometimes, this is a self imposed belief and sometimes we are obligated to a funder or board.

Berger defines a beautiful question as "an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something - and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change."

At GForce Strategies, we are keenly interested in asking our clients the essential actionable questions that will have them look and act differently at a problem to be solved, opportunity to be pursued or personal discovery that compels them. We begin working with individuals facing transitions by asking three simple questions.

1) What do you feel deeply inspired by?
2) What is your unique gift or talent?
3) What does your world need?

It is at the intersection of these 3 essential questions, that magic happens and people are able to contribute at the their highest level.

At the organizational level, we begin with

1) What is your mission?
2) Who is your customer and what do they value?
3) How might you articulate an essential strategic intent that is inspiring and concrete?

At GForce, two of our three core values include a focus on the essentials and the importance of simplicity. In spending dedicated and intentional time in framing the essential questions, then perhaps this will lead us to a more beautiful and simple answer.