The Creative Leader Series: Part 2

As a leader, your job is not to continually implement the past, your work is in helping your organization discover the future…

We live in an answer-driven world.

People don’t want more questions, they want answers. All questions have a tendency to do is slow down our current level of action and productivity, while creating more and more uncertainty.

Whereas, answers provide us with a feeling of progress. Especially, since we have been trained for the majority of our lives to focus on the answers. We’ve ingrained the notion into our societal mindset that strong leadership is about having all the answers, and to appear otherwise portrays a sense of weakness and indecisiveness.

According to Warren Berger, from his work A More Beautiful Question, “The problem with asking questions, for some business leaders, is that it exposes a lack of expertise and, in theory, makes them vulnerable.”

And yet, the most creative and courageous thing we can do as leaders, is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To shake off the facade of the ‘expert’ that closes off the creative thinking of many leaders, and learn to embrace a learner mindset.

To be less knowing, and a little more unknowing…

Or as Berger shares from the legendary leadership guru Peter Drucker, “Drucker understood that his job was not to serve up answers. Drucker once remarked that his greatest strength was “to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

The problem is that there is a false safety in answers, in knowing.  We rely too heavily on those answers. The problem with being answer-focused is that we begin to ask fewer and fewer questions, as we already have the answers. We become less and less inquisitive, less and less creative, and less and less innovative. And we no longer ask the questions that keep us moving forward, that keep us relevant in a constantly changing world.

The problem is that when we rely too heavily on those answers, we often lose the understanding that the answers eventually change.

It is when we have the courage to be more vulnerable, to be less-knowing and more asking, that we create the environment for more creative and innovative thinking to occur. But it is here, often facing the unanswered and unknowns, that our greatest growth and learning will eventually occur. It is in our vulnerability that strength is acquired. It is in our questions, more than our answers, that we provide the permission and the impetus to encourage and unleash the creative and innovative thinking of those we lead within our organizations.

Warren Berger shares in A More Beautiful Question not only the importance of questions, but how the most innovative companies (IDEO, Google, Facebook) are using questions as the approach to garner the best creativity and innovation from those within their organizations. And at the core of this, is what they refer to as the “HMW Methodology” of questioning.

“A specific form of questioning using three words – How might we? It’s a simple way of ensuring that would-be innovators are asking the right questions and using the best wording.” Berger continues by sharing how Tim Brown, the Chief Executive at IDEO uses this “How might we?” strategy to begin any challenge, “each of those three words plays a role in spurring creative problem solving: the How part assumes there are solutions out there – it provides creative confidence.” Might says we can put ideas out there that might work or might not – either way, it’s okay. And the we part says we’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas.”

So the next time we find ourselves spinning our wheels, determined to find the best answers. We may want to spend a bit more time determining, not only if we are asking enough questions, but are we asking the right questions.

We may simply want to begin by asking, “How might we?”

“The most important thing leaders must do today is to be the ‘chief question-asker’ for their organization.”  -Dev Patnaik from Warren Berger’s ‘A More Beautiful Question’

References and quotes from…

Berger, Warren.  A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. 2014. Bloomsbury USA, New York


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