Excerpted from the book on conscious business management, Business Black Belt
A good answer evolves from many good questions.
–Burke Franklin, Author, Business Black Belt
If I had two hours to solve a problem, I would spend the first hour and a half asking questions and questioning assumptions—mine and those of everyone involved. I’ve found that often the solution will reveal itself easily once the problem has been fully and properly identified.
Let’s take the question concept a step further. When our grade school teacher asked a question, we were rewarded for being the first to answer. We knew that whoever was the fastest would get all the credit and look the smartest. Many of us are still racing to be the first with a solution so we can get all the credit for solving the problem. In doing that; however, we make many mistakes and overlook potential problems.
Most of us are too quick to come up with answers. We kick ourselves later for wasting time and money. We don’t spend enough time and effort thoroughly examining the whole problem. We’re too busy trying to quickly find any solution.
In our haste to do it fast, we stop asking questions too soon. If you’re really in a hurry for an answer, you’re not going to explore all the angles of a problem. Take more time to ask more questions.
Remember the story about the five blind men and the elephant? One leaned up against his leg and thought the elephant was a tree. Another grabbed his trunk and thought he was a snake. The third man held the elephant’s ear and thought it was a bird. The fourth one felt his huge stomach and concluded it was a whale. Finally, the fifth man caught the elephant’s tail and thought it was a rope. They each touched only one part of the elephant, and because they were blind, they were unaware that the rest of the elephant existed. They argued among themselves, each certain that the others were wrong, none of them aware of the complete animal.
To get a good idea of the real thing, you’ve got to walk around and touch it in many places. Making assumptions and jumping to conclusions only lands you in a heap of elephant dung.
Does this happen in business? All the time.
Most people stop asking questions too soon. “Let’s get to the answer. Let’s cut to the chase.” We have answers to all kinds of things, but we don’t ask enough questions. We don’t spend enough time finding out what the problem really is. If you have an hour to solve a problem, take 45 minutes to figure out exactly what the problem is. If you ask enough questions, you’ll get a look at the whole situation. You’re not just holding onto the elephant’s trunk, you’ll have gotten a good feel for the whole animal. Given a clear understanding of the problem, you’ll be surprised how the answer appears almost like magic in the last 15 minutes.
I find this to be true in devising our marketing strategies and developing our products. We go through everything and really lay out the whole problem. Amazingly, the answer almost develops itself and a consensus evolves naturally so everyone can buy into the solution.
In the past, I would explain a problem to my family, friends, or business associates, and they would immediately leap in with solutions. How could they know the answer when they hadn’t gotten all of the problem? As a result, I learned a variety of techniques to get people to listen to me before they interrupt:
- “There are several facets to this problem. Please listen to all of them so you will understand.”
- “I haven’t explained this out loud yet. Please let me stumble through it completely so I don’t lose my train of thought.”
- “I need you to allow me to fully explain the situation before you consider the possibilities.”
Clarifying questions are OK. In fact, they’re encouraged. At least someone is trying to better understand the situation. This process doesn’t have to be time-consuming. If you’re bashful about asking tough, probing questions, you’ll waste more time second-guessing yourself and your assumptions than you would take to just come straight out with your questions.
You wouldn’t want your doctor to start operating before he or she was certain what was wrong with you and had considered all of the options. The doctor could diagnose many things but first must narrow the problem down precisely. I think the time it takes is worth it.
Business Black Belt Notes
- Spend 80% of your time asking questions and clarifying the problem.
- Explore all angles of a problem.
- Request that others allow you to complete your explanation before asking questions or making suggestions.