Byron's Babbles

Tell Me Why I Am Wrong!

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 7.35.32 AMIn his great book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger discussed the idea that dissonance can be more valuable to leaders and organizations than resonance. We always think about jumping straight to buy-in or consensus, but the idea of having team members push back has tremendous value. I have always believed we should question the views of those with whom we disagree. We need to do this however with yet an open, curious mind. Berger suggested we ask things like: Why might they see the issue this way? Why do I see it differently? What assumptions are we each operating under?AMBQ-Hardcover-Paperback_edited-1-768x634

I have always had two trade-mark questions that I like to ask when making decisions or trying to design new ways of doing things. These two questions are:

  1. Tell/convince me: Why am I wrong?
  2. Can you please talk me out of this?

These two questions have really served me well over the years. It is amazing how many great ideas I have gotten to improve the project or question I am grappling with at the time of asking these questions. The beautiful thing about these questions is that sometimes I am wrong, but many times I get just the right ideas to make something great or keep me from being wrong.

An example of this is a decision I just made official yesterday. As you know we have a program I started two years ago called the Focused Leader Academy (FLA). At its founding we decided to have 15-18 participants selected each year by an application and interview process. This would give us approximately 10% of our teaching staff going through this intensive leadership training each year. We just completed our second cohort and are ready to start Cohort #3. Well, we had 34 applicants, which is the most ever. Long story short, because of the many different complexities of our school, I had the wild and crazy thought of, “Why not accept all 34 candidates and have that many more great leaders developed in our school?” As you can imagine, there are many implications to making a decision like this. Not the least of which are: financial, keeping the experience special, logistics, group dynamics, and managing a group this size.

So, I literally started making phone calls to some of my most trusted people and former participants of the group and asked three things:

  1. What if we accepted 34 participants into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  2. Why would it be wrong to accept all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  3. Please talk me out of accepting all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?

I might add that I also randomly selected some of the applicants and asked the same three questions. I thought is was important to hear the feedback from those that would be most affected by my decision.

Here’s the deal: yesterday I sent congratulatory notes to all 34 and made Cohort #3 of FLA the largest of our history. Why? Because no-one convinced me it was the wrong idea. Most importantly, however, I got all kinds of great ideas on how to make it great with 34 participants. And… even more importantly, I got great advice on how not to let the experience flop with 34 participants. And… from my financial team we already have it figured out how to make it work from a financial standpoint.

I found it interesting that I had one group that was somewhat against at first and one individual that was adamantly against, but after long conversations with both they both came to the conclusion, and I quote, “You don’t have a choice; taking all 34 is the right decision.” Keep in mind these were just conversations sharing versions of ideas. It is about me hearing negative feedback and ideas, not me trying to convince. When entering uncharted waters, I (we all) need my assumptions challenged.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from Berger’s awesome book that reinforces this idea of dissonance:

“In sharing early versions of an idea with the world at large, one is likely to receive negative feedback—which some people interpret as evidence of a failure. But that’s not necessarily true, says Harvard’s Paul Bottino, who points out that when it comes to feedback, “dissonance can actually be more valuable than resonance.” As people push back on your idea, it can be a good indication that you’re entering uncharted, potentially important territory—because you’re more likely to get negative feedback (“That could never work!”) on ideas that challenge common assumptions. “Dissonance is the most misunderstood kind of feedback,” Bottino says. “We really should welcome it and learn to make the most of it.” ~ Warren Berger in A More Beautiful Question

I love Merriam-Webster’s definition of dissonance: “lack of agreement – the dissonance between the truth and what people want to believe.” When I ask team members to tell me why I am wrong, I really want to know. I usually want to really believe something will work or be a great idea, but I need to know the truth about roadblocks and potential pit-falls.

Finally, I do not want you to leave this post thinking I am suggesting throwing out the important of resonance. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Resonance is the positive emotional affect of leadership. Those who are led by resonate leaders are in harmony with the leader’s emotions. Great leaders are effective because they create resonance.  Resonance comes from the Latin word resonare, to resound. Effective leaders are attuned to other people’s feelings and move them in a positive emotional direction. They speak authentically about their own values, direction and priorities and resonate with the emotions of surrounding people. Under the guidance of an effective leader, people feel a mutual comfort level. Resonance comes naturally to people with a high degree of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management) but involves also intellectual aspects.

Remember, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations, as resonant leaders, to model and allow for dissonance when incorporating Berger’s framework of asking:

  • Why?
  • What if?
  • How?

Asking beautiful questions will enable us to lead beautiful organizations!

You Will Just Have To Accept This! Why?

file 6I have always believed we need to always refuse to accept the existing reality. I really believe this in our personal lives, organizations we work in, state, nation, and world. My thinking was affirmed when reading A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger this past weekend. He told the story of Van Phillips. This amazing and inspiring story is about the person that invented the mind-blowing “blade runner” prosthetic device.  When Phillips lost his leg in a boating accident, he could have asked the usual question.  Why me?  Instead he went further, asking “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot?”  Then he took ownership of the question:  How can I make a better foot? It’s easy, when we’re confronted with a challenge that seems insurmountable to ask “what are we going to do?”  Or… worse yet, to just accept that is the we it has to be. What if, we ask, “why does it have to be that way. Or… better yet, what if, instead we asked “What if this change represents an opportunity for us?”

AMBQ-Hardcover-Paperback_edited-1-768x634In this great book, Berger, incorporates a wide array of examples and his three question framework of innovation: Why, What if, and How. Plenty of innovation has started with questions, many of which are downright strange. Warren Berger’s definition of a beautiful question is, “an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.” We need to remember that questions trump answers, every time.

As leaders, we would all be better served to practice divergent thinking and encourage our teams to think and question this way as well. Divergent thinking is the intellectual ability to think of many original, diverse and elaborate ideas. This type of thinking is associated with the right brain dominant, which is seeing things in a perceptual manner. In other words asking, “Why does it have to be this way?” This is in contrast to convergent thinking which is the ability to logically evaluate and choose the best idea from a selection of ideas. This type of thinking is associated with the left brain dominant, which is seeing things in an analytical manner.
We need to develop the capacity in ourselves and those we lead to produce many, or a greater number of complicated or complex ideas from a single idea or “why does it have to be this way?” question to trigger more ideas. It calls for making unexpected combinations, changing information into unanticipated forms, identifying connections among remote associates, and the like. In divergent thinking, a single question returns multiple answers, and though the answers vary considerably depending on the person, all answers are of equal value. Perhaps they did not exist ever before and so are novel, surprising or unusual. Now, this is not to say we need only divergent thinkers because we will need the convergent and linear thinkers to help us accomplish our goals.
Asking the powerful question “why?” forces people to think deep. They can then peel back the layers of excuses and get to the root cause of the problem. Asking “why” seems easy enough. It’s just a little word, after all. So, why don’t leaders ask this powerful question more often? Probing deep can be scary for a leader. It smells of confrontation and hints of accusation. It also is giving up some authority and asks others to weigh in. Many leaders are also accustomed to and want to be the go-to person for answers. They’re used to giving direction and opinion. It makes them feel valued, important and reinforces their position of authority. Also, some leaders prefer to deliver the answers because they think it will save precious time. Unfortunately, when leaders routinely dish out the answers, they become enablers of that dysfunctional cycle, which is actually a huge time-waster. Employees regularly seek out leadership for the solution rather than being leaders where they are and becoming problem-solvers. This prevents the ability to develop real solutions, stifles employee growth and ultimately limits company productivity. Remember, leadership should be happening where the data is produced.
The best leaders are those who understand that asking “why” is a highly productive teaching method. Teaching – true professional growth – and challenging people to think is what stimulates discovery, solutions and growth. So, the goal of any leader is to become a great teacher and develop the necessary skills. This includes not only asking “why”, but then also giving employees the autonomy to ask “why” and the appropriate amount of time to determine the real answer. Remember, we all live in the world our questions create!