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“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
At the beginning of a new project one of our key responsibilities, as designers, is to ask our clients questions - lots of them. Developing new strategies are dependent on understanding the issues, goals and desires of the client and good questions help to unlock valuable information. Thoughtful inquiry encourages a broader conversation and often exposes territory that otherwise may have gone unexplored. Insights that a client my have considered unrelated or insignificant to the task at hand can prove to be extremely useful. This may sound terribly fundamental to us - but it's the art of how to ask good questions that I think is worth taking a closer look at.
Everyone is capable of asking questions, but the ability to ask the right ones takes a certain skill. Most people tend to frame queries in such a way as to elicit answers that they want to hear – these are called leading questions. An example of one is: Do you have any problems with your current marketing materials? You will undoubtedly gain more knowledge about your client by phrasing this as an open-ended question, for example: Tell me about the marketing materials you are currently using? There’s a big difference between the two approaches. Asking open-ended questions leaves room for fuller responses. But, they take practice. The next time you’re in a meeting with your client listen carefully to the way you pose your questions – you may be surprised.
Besides keeping your questions simple and open-ended, make sure they are also non-judgemental. Judgemental questions put the client in a defensive position and make for stilted responses. Another useful tip is to start your questions with one of the following words – who, what, where, when, why and how. Asking good questions results in receiving good answers.
As firms grow in size and in profit they tend to be more comfortable protecting what they know rather than exposing themselves to what they don’t know. Sociologist Linsey McGoey, of the University of Essex, calls this “strategic ignorance”, which she defines as “the circumstances in which cultivating ignorance becomes more advantageous than cultivating knowledge.” It’s our job to break through this barrier by posing just the right questions to uncover constructive data.
Formulating appropriate and administrable strategies involves many factors, not the least of which include: healthy curiosity, expert advice and trustworthy guidance. Regardless of where you are in the process keep asking questions – the right questions. Once you realize this is a skill and strive to make improvements, you will see the impact they have on your ability to create richer strategies.
Author: Bob Hambly
Partner, Flywheel Strategic