Sometimes Questions Are The Fastest Path To Solutions

Caroline Robertson
Vice President, B2B Marketing Research Director
April 23, 2018

By nature, people like to help. Anyone who has ever networked their way into a new job by doing a round of purposeful informational interviews knows this. And while the optimal outcome for that discussion is a solution like “I need someone just like you on my team — when can you start?” that’s a rarity. More often than I know I’d like to admit, I’ve engaged in business decision meetings that never get to a solution — because we simply get stuck.

Getting stuck is an uncomfortable place to be for a leader, especially as the pace of work accelerates. There is often a collective sigh, and perhaps even a groan, when a brave participant says, “Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves a few questions.” The perception is that questions will: 1) slow the team down; 2) derail the team from its mission; 3) uncover a whole lot of truths that were being buried in the dust of progress; or 4) all of the above. But that’s not what Hal Gregersen promotes in his Harvard Business Review article “Better Brainstorming.” Gregersen shares, “Underlying the approach is a broader recognition that fresh questions often beget novel — even transformative — insights,” which describes really well one of the values of Forrester’s Leadership Boards (FLB).

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in Forrester’s CMO Leadership Boards Spring Meeting in New York. Shar VanBoskirk and I presented material from her report The Model For Modern Marketing as a sneak peek of the full Marketing Innovation Playbook, the executive overview of which is entitled Embrace Innovative Marketing. But we didn’t stop with just sharing our recommendations based on the analysis. Principal Advisor Sarah Montague designed a follow-on working session, inspired by Gregersen’s article, to help FLB members break through challenges in one of the four competencies that Forrester has identified as core to the modern marketing leader — mindset, talent, process, and insights — by asking questions.

As a facilitator for two of the four groups, I got to see the shift from the discomfort of being directed away from solutions to the enthusiasm in asking questions, which led to new ways of approaching challenges. The idea of the brainstorm was not to try to come up with the answer (the natural inclination, and yet usually an impossible feat) but to help each group member consider questions that would help them develop a solution by thinking about their problem from an alternative angle. Each group left with the three or four questions that, once answered, would help them progress toward a satisfying solution. And, as an analyst and research director, I can share that nothing is as satisfying to us as helping our clients break through their challenges.

If you think your teams could benefit from this kind of facilitated session, feel free to reach out to Sarah or myself, and we can help.

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