Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Value of "Stupid" Questions

Source: Hyatt Hotels
David Gelles interviewed Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of  Hyatt Hotels, recently for the New York Times Corner Office column.   In the interview, Hoplamazian describes his early days as CEO of Hyatt, when he was quite unfamiliar with the business.  He explains why "stupid" questions proved quite powerful.  

It was pretty intimidating in some ways. I came into the business, and I was pretty ignorant. I knew a lot about the financial and tax structure of Hyatt because I had helped put the company together in the whole family reorganization. But I didn’t really know the business; I didn’t grow up in the business. That level of ignorance was super powerful because it just let me ask a whole bunch of stupid questions, which served me extremely well. Those simple questions often led to interesting discussions about why we do certain things the way we do, and that led to changes. But it was organic as opposed to me coming in thinking that I knew better. It was actually the result of inquiry.

Hoplamazian's comments about the value of "stupid" questions speak to the importance of bringing some non-experts into the decision-making process on your team from time to time.  Experts may be wedded to the past, to the way things have always been done.  They can be trapped by the conventional wisdom.  Smart people with a broad range of other experiences can bring fresh perspective. They can ask, "Why are we doing it this way?"   Done effectively, these questions don't have to be threatening.  They don't have to disparage the existing ways of working.  They can simply inquire, seeking to understand, rather than being critical.   The right quesiton might not be "Why do you do it THAT way?" Instead, it might be, "Help me understand the rationale for that approach or that process." 

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