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Weekly 3: Better Decisions, “What-iffing” & Questions of Leadership

Summary: Encourage healthy debate by asking better questions. Use two words to unlock your imaginatio

Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 25 · Issue #23 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Encourage healthy debate by asking better questions. Use two words to unlock your imagination. Ask yourself if you can be a good leader. (~8 min read)
We explored this same topic, the value of asking questions, using a different set of ideas in an earlier issue.

#1. Ask better questions to reach better decisions.
Author and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan writes in her book Beyond Measure that in an organizational context, where status and groupthink can be factors, questions are the “heart and soul of constructive conflict.”
Rich argument and debate are important activities for any organization because, when done well, they “help us to see what we’re prone to ignore, challenging us to think for ourselves, think better, think differently.”
When you’re making decisions as a group, Heffernan recommends asking the following questions:
Who needs to benefit from our decision? How?
What else would we need to know to be more confident of this decision?
Who are the people affected by this decision; who have the least power to influence it?
How much of this decision must we make today?
Why is this important? And what’s important about that?
If we had infinite resources – time, money, people – what would we do? What would we do if we had none?
What are all the reasons this is the right decision? What are all the reasons it is the wrong decision?
#2. What if you could solve more problems by using your imagination?
Michael Michalko, author and creativity expert, writes in his book Thinkertoys that, “Directed imagination focuses you on how to solve a problem instead of wondering if the problem can be solved.”
He suggests that one way to direct your imagination to come up with possible solutions to a problem is to ask What if …?
Here’s how it works in 4 steps:
First, have an open mind. Acknowledge that you want fresh and new ideas to solve your problem, and agree with yourself that you will suspend all judgement. It doesn’t really matter if the ideas are weird or offbeat because no one but you needs to see them.
Second, explicitly state the challenge or problem you’re trying to solve in one sentence.
Third, list as many “what if” scenarios as you can.
Fourth, try to answer the questions posed by your scenarios.
Michalko offers the below example to illustrate the power of what-iffing.
Challenge: Imagine you own a company, and ask yourself, In what ways might I increase sales?
Some what-if scenarios:
What if personal selling were outlawed by the government, and I had to find ways to get customers to come to me and ask to buy?
What if I had to get a year’s worth of sales in eight hours?
What if I had to use a maximum number of words in sales presentations (e.g., 45 words)?
What if I could read the customer’s mind before I entered his or her office?
What if dogs could be trained to sell my products?
Some answers to the last scenario. By considering any connections between the characteristics of dogs and the selling process, Michalko comes up with the following possible lines of thinking:
  • Dogs are rewarded for good behavior with small rewards. Create an incentive plan that gives salespeople an immediate reward after closing a sale — pay commissions, or a portion of the commissions, immediately.
  • Dogs are loyal. Generate loyalty among salespeople by publicly recognizing good and consistent performance. Reward loyal customers with surprise gifts and / or discounts.
  • Dogs are affectionate and eager to please. Develop a system to periodically call customers after the sale to find out how things are going and what more you can do. Send customers birthday cards with personalized notes.
  • Dogs are territorial. Update company policies to give salespeople more autonomy in their territories. Salespeople are empowered to make all decisions related to their territory, and run it as if he or she owned it. 
  • Dogs bark when threatened. Create an early-warning system to alert the organization to defective products or services that salespeople hear about; reward those salespeople who spot new problems.
#3. Become a better leader through introspection.
In his book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, author and leadership expert John Maxwell writes that questions are the foundation of both learning and leadership. 
Maxwell suggests that, as a leader, you can wait for others to ask you the “hard and important” questions, or you can take responsibility and proactively ask them of yourself.
He developed the following list of questions, and suggests that reflecting on the answers can help you to maintain your integrity, increase your energy, and improve your leadership capacity:
Am I investing in myself?
For Maxwell, the most important investment you will make is in yourself, because that will determine what you get out of life. There are 3 factors that determine whether and how you will invest in yourself:
  • Your self-image – how you see yourself
  • Your dream – how you see your future
  • Your friends – how others see you
Am I genuinely interested in others?
Motivations matter. Maxwell references the adage that people have two reasons for doing anything – a good reason and the real reason. He writes that, to be a good leader when dealing with people, the good reason has to be the same as the real reason.
Am I grounded as a leader?
Leaders are susceptible to an inflated sense of self-importance, and Maxwell suggests that leaders exhibit the following qualities to remain realistic and grounded:
  • Humility – understanding your place in the context of the bigger picture
  • Authenticity – being comfortable with who you are
  • Calling – having a purpose that is bigger than you
Am I adding value to my team?
Maxwell recommends these behaviors to ensure that you are:
  • Promote full commitment
  • Create an environment of encouragement and support
  • Identify adversity as an opportunity to develop character
  • Consider each person’s strengths and weaknesses
Am I staying in my “strength zone”?
Maxwell argues that many people spend their time trying to improve their weaknesses, so by focusing on and maximizing your strengths, you’ll be better positioned to see and seize opportunities as they come up.
Am I taking care of today?
While leaders are often focused on their vision of the future, Maxwell points out that the future isn’t where things get accomplished. “That happens today. That’s why you need to take care of it.”
Am I investing my time with the right people?
For Maxwell, the greatest test for a leader is whether he or she develops others to be leaders once he or she has moved on. He recommends being strategic with the time, effort, and other resources you dedicate to developing future leaders because “you can’t make a difference with people who don’t want to make a difference.”
Quote of the Week
“Any fool can have an opinion; to know what one needs to know to have an opinion is wisdom; which is another way of saying that wisdom means knowing what questions to ask about knowledge.”
- Author and media theorist Neil Postman in his book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century
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