I love the Polaroid story! Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. She wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing. She asked, “Why do we have to wait for the picture?” This simple question led Land to ponder about the possibility of developing film inside the camera. Then he spent a long time figuring out how. This quest led to the birth of the Polaroid instant camera. Land brought the darkroom into the camera.
Warren Berger in his bestselling new book, ‘A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas’, talks about the Zen principle of “shoshin”. This term means that a beginner’s mind is devoid of bias and is “open to all possibilities” and “can see things as they are.” Shoshin helps one to have a childlike curiosity and take each situation for what it is rather than allowing past experiences to impact perception. Being in this state allows the observer to ask questions that will further open up possibilities. Steve Jobs is an excellent example of this ability to envision possibilities and opportunities in situations or events that others think are commonplace.
Questioning is a key skill that is needed in this ever-changing and innovation-charged business world today. This skill can be developed by using questions to challenge not only the perspectives of others but also that of your own. Questions provide data that put you on a path of thinking that is very different to your own. The most important part of questioning is that you should be open to asking questions and also to embrace the unusual answers. Allow the answers that are completely illogical to linger in your mind long enough till it provides you clarity on when it does not serve you anymore. Practicing this will push the boundaries of possibilities!
Questioning skills is an important part of good communication. There are several different types of questions that you can use to collect information. This is a key focus of communication training programs.
The key to both answering and framing questions is preparation, which leads to a systematic process of thinking. Properly asked and answered questions lead to more effective communication. As a general rule, it is good to start conversations with open-ended questions, as these will provide you a lot of information. Towards the end of a conversation, close-ended questions will serve to establish the action items agreed upon. Diligent use of these two types of questions in a business environment will have significant impact on the efficacy of business communication.