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Realizing the Question to Ask is the Payoff

Ask Better Questions at Work

"What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question." ~ Jonas Salk

"Boy, these young people really know their stuff nowadays!" This is a quote I recently overheard at a youth leadership development program. The program is designed for college-aged students who aspire to make a real difference in their communities, for their employers, and for the State of Iowa. Learn more here.


So what was so impressive? Their questions. Interestingly, none of them even pretended to know any answers. They asked questions. Lots of them. And, truth be told, we adults really like getting good questions. They challenge us to come up with good and reasonable answers, and they reflect positively on the questioner. Ask good questions!


In my seminar with these same students, we delved deeply into business. We conducted a three year simulation in which teams of these students took on several executive roles. They struggled with cash flow, product development strategies, inventory management, forecasting, financial results, and the like. Working in teams, they came up with plans and tactics to maximize their results. They diagnosed problems in their businesses and then derived ways to improve the outcomes. Lots of questions came up. Lots.


The students immediately put their insights to work in the real world. They listed questions they encountered in the simulation that are relevant to their mentors, their employers, and their sponsors. They practiced asking and researching them as well. All of this is based upon their understanding of business in general and their simulation experience in particular.


Leaders need not have all the answers. They do need to know the questions. A great question is one that is relevant and compelling. It begs to be answered. It has immediate application to the issues at hand.


Our students listed these questions that they viewed as "good":

  1. What's your most profitable product/service? Why?

  2. Where do you derive most of your sales revenue? Market, product, service?

  3. How much of your revenue comes from products/services launched in the last five years?

  4. Who are your best customers? Who is the best fit for your products/services?

  5. How do you make money?

  6. If performance begins to slip, where do you look first for causes? Why?

  7. How's business?

Yes. Good questions. We all could do well with an improvement in our questioning. A good question comes from an insight, an understanding, or even a gut feeling that says, "this is worth asking." Try it. You'll be amazed at what you learn.

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