Thursday, June 29, 2017

Five Essential Questions

My colleague Peter Nigro (finance professor here at Bryant University) gave me a little book to read this week:  "What, What?" by James Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  What a fantastic read!  I laughed, cried, and learned a great deal.   Ryan offers five essential questions that we should all ask ourselves (not just once, but throughout our daily lives).   Here are the five questions:

1.  Wait, what?   In other words, ask people for clarification.  Ask them to elaborate. Seek to understand them more clearly before jumping to conclusions.

2.  I wonder... Two types of "I wonder" questions actually: I wonder why and I wonder if.  I wonder why demonstrates intellectual curiosity.  You are trying to understand what's really going on.  Then, you can ask, "I wonder if..."  In other words, what might be possible?  How might we improve things?  You open up your mind to new opportunities for growth, development, and change.

3.  Couldn't we at least...?   Sometimes we disagree vehemently with others.  This question seeks to find some common ground.  It looks for some small first steps that can bring people together.  It propels us to take some action, rather than waiting for the perfect grandiose solution.  It invites us to find small wins.

4.  How can I help?  With this question, we reach out to others, but we don't simply offer our solutions to what we perceive to be their problems.  We let them drive the conversation.  What do they need from us?  How can we contribute most effectively?

5.  What truly matters to me?  This question pertains both to specific meetings, projects, and decisions as well as to your life overall.  For particular tasks, asking this question enables you to get to the heart of the issue.  Where should we really focus our attention?  What are the key issues, and what are the things that distract us?  At a broader level, this question enables us to consider our values and our priorities in life.

The video below provides a brief introduction to these ideas.  I highly recommend reading the entire book.  It's a quick read (just over 100 pages).  I promise that it will be thought-provoking.

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