The popular saying ‘to drill down’ expresses a need we all feel from time to time. Whether problem or opportunity we want to know what is the real issue. For most of us our thought processes were developed to seek only answers, the faster the better. Questions – we were brought up to believe – displayed a lack of information and intellect, a leeching onto others thinking abilities, even laziness.
Whether corporate or personal we often find clients unwilling to pose questions to themselves, let alone to other people, before they try to reach a solution. They somehow regard their reticence as a sign of modesty or humility. How counter-productive is this?
Those who solve problems know that solutions start with questions. Perhaps the first, most important, are ‘Do I need to solve this problem? What will happen if I don’t?’ It is a question you routinely ask before hiring someone. But do you apply it in other, equally difficult and costly, situations? Look at this. You were probably taught to handle math at school. If you were fortunate, like me, to have as good a teacher as Bert Howells, numbers will have become friends not threats. I can still see Mr Howells pumping the imaginary beer handle to make a point about the square on the hypotenuse. I have embraced calculations ever since.
My math teacher was asking questions, even as simple as “What does this remind you of?” He understood that interrogation is a form of solution. Good detectives use the same ploy. So should we all if we are to discover the answer before we think it through. Strange? Why should we need to work out the answer if we already know it? Because we get our best answers by testing hypotheses. So we must set up our hypothesis first, then test it.
If we don’t do that we think purely linearly, not creatively. Creating hypotheses enables us to get to the heart of the matter. We must establish this before we think through a solution. We will only get to the heart of the matter if we open up the widest possible range of options. When we do that we often have the answer. If this sounds circular, you’ve got it!
Here are some other vital questions we should ask before we start to solve a problem.
What will we do with the answer when we have it? Who will benefit from our solving this problem? How could they benefit without our doing so? Who is likely to have had similar problems in the past? What were their solutions? What has given rise to this problem? Is there some reason why the problem should apply to us / me rather than to other people? Why has this problem arisen now? How quickly do we need to solve it? Who in our organisation is likely to have had the most useful experience of dealing with this or similar problems?
The list of questions is longer than this, of course. So important have we found drilling down that we have a service called The Heart of the Matter. As in Graham Greene’s book of that title, it aims to pinpoint what really matters – and what really doesn’t. If you are interested, please ask for a description of the service.
It will greatly improve your strategic thinking.
You may find out more about The Heart of the Matter on this website by clicking here.