Innovation 500 – The power of questions

To kick things off for June we want to encourage everyone to think about the topic of The Power of Questions and either send us a blog post from you or your team via email to [kevin.gillick@devon.gov.uk] for inclusion or simply add your comments below.  If you don’t think this is for you at the moment but are interested then sign up so we can keep you informed as we develop.

To give you a flavour we have included 3 posts from different people providing 3 different perspectives.

Blog post by Bill H on The Power of Questions

There is a story about Albert Einstein that I particularly like. Einstein was being interviewed by a reporter. The reporter asked him. “How come you are so clever. Einstein replied, “It was my mother.” The reporter said, “Sure she gave you the genes to be smart.”  Einstein sighed and replied, “No it’s more than that. Every day when I came home from school she asked me; ‘Albert, what good questions did you ask in school today?’ ”.

I like this story because it reminds me that whenever we ask somebody a question we are engaging both their and our own thinking capabilities.  Asking questions is the antidote to slavish adherence to what people say.  Often people will take in what they hear and just accept it as fact without thinking.  It may be because the person telling them is considered an expert or it may be that the person telling them has more seniority. It may be that it is a belief that they have carried all their life because a parent told them it was true.

Let me illustrate this point. I remember a discussion with my teenage son.  It started when we were out and it started to rain.  I suggested that we run home to avoid getting too wet. He told me that someone had told him that if it is raining and you run you get wetter. I thought about this for a moment and a whole mass of questions came to my mind. These are some of them:

Does it matter which way the wind is blowing? Or how hard? Do you get wetter if you run into the wind and rain? What if the wind is behind you?  Could you run at the same speed as the wind and not get wet at all? If it about exposure to the rain surely running would reduce the time that you could get wet? If you run fast you get to shelter quicker are you not exposed to less rain as if you walked slowly?

We ran home and went on to a more useful conversation about the importance of critical thinking. The key to critical thinking is asking questions and not accepting everything at face value.

So, what good questions have you asked today?

Blog post by Dave S on The Power of Questions

As a youngster it seemed to me that questions were like bullets. Launched at high velocity, they carefully targeted dubious aspects of my knowledge or behaviour. Answers were required instantaneous and there was invariably a clear “right” or (frequently in my case), a “wrong”.

Hard questions that demand clear answers certainly have their place. The persistence of the radio interviewer or a Select Committee in holding those in power to account is a hallmark of a healthy democracy, although the battered and bruised banking executive or politician might not see it quite that way.

It took me many years to realise the huge value of more open and positive questions. Well placed and constructive questions always help, whatever the situation. If we question meaning and purpose we can break down assumptions and gain a whole new perspective; exploring situations or issues can spark fresh ideas and solutions; reflecting back other people’s concerns helps to empathise and build relationships. The best questions have no right or wrong answer. Instead they open up new opportunities for ourselves and for others.

How can we use the power of questions? At work it could simply mean welcoming time spent on systems reviews, discussion about performance or personal appraisal as learning opportunities. But really the key might be to put defensiveness to one side and make questioning, enquiry and exploration an everyday habit, the basis of everything we do.

Blog post by Sarah H on The Power of Questions

In the last edition of Innovation 500 we looked at how Change Starts with Me. This originated from the idea that widespread change starts with personal change. As I reflected on this, I took it one step further and posited that personal change often starts with a question. Questions are powerful things, and the right question at the right time can change everything.

Dave, in his blog, suggested that questions are like bullets. Although I love the feeling of speed and power that image conjures, personally I think they are more like seeds. Planted in the right soil and in the right environment they can grow into their own, change the landscape and spreading.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that I’m not really referring to all questions here. ‘Would you like fries with that?’ is unlikely to change the world. There are certain questions though that capture our imagination, I remember being in a work culture where someone started asking people if they were ‘living a life well lived’. It started with them asking just one or two people, then those one or two asked another one or two, and before you know it you there was a whole culture seeking to ‘live a life well lived’ and encouraging one another on in this pursuit. The change in the culture on a daily basis was huge. Most people didn’t know or think about when or how  this question came into the culture, but they felt the positive effect from it.

There are a variety of Power Questions, questions that people ask themselves regularly; or questions that have been asked only once, but once was enough to change their life. In preparation for this blog I put a poll out on Facebook asking what people’s Power Questions were, the results were amazing and I definitely gained a few powerful questions to add into my artillery! One of my favourite was:

“How could I act now that would make my old self surprised and proud?”

I’ve asked myself that question a few times over the past week and found myself making some great changes because of it,. This question won’t capture everyone’s imagination, and so we’ve decided to set up a pop-up forum to share Power Questions. I am convinced that every single person reading this has a Power Question, and that your Power Question may just change someone’s life. So please be a little bit brave and share yours here.

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