Artwork “In Deep Conversation” by Irish artist Pam O’Connell
One of the most valuable lessons from my recent meeting with David Zinger was how important it is to ask powerful, open questions. I’ve previously written that what distinguishes great research from the mountains of derivative drivel that are passed off as ‘research’ is that it asks important questions — intelligent, appropriate, imaginative questions that provoke, that open new lines of enquiry, that challenge, that prompt thinking about an old issue in a fundamentally new way. The right questions in research reports can spark revolutionary advances. Darwin and Einstein were brilliant at asking questions no one else had thought to ask. Some such questions are brilliant, the stuff of genius. But some are so obvious they just leave you asking “Why didn’t I think of that?”
David has convinced me that asking the right powerful, open questions may also be the stuff that sparks great conversations. He calls them questions that “bring your audience alive.” In this context, a great question is one that is:
So what are some of these questions? The following ten are a sampler that David and I came up with from recent experience. All these questions are very broad and open to a wide range of interpretation, and it’s really important that you not edit them, interpret them or narrow them to reduce the breadth of responses they can provoke, because they’re likely to generate responses that you’d never have imagined. I recall asking some of these questions in informal discussions after the end of presentations (mine and others’) and being astonished at how differently the audience was thinking, and what startlingly different learning and perspectives they derived from the presentation.
So just ask them, when it’s the right time, and be prepared to be amazed at what happens:
I know — it’s really tempting to narrow these questions, to be more specific, to guide the person/people you’re talking to towards expected or suggested responses. Please resist. Just float these short, open questions out there, be empathetic, be genuine, listen, learn, and be amazed.
What other powerful questions have you found that, when interjected in a conversation, brings your audience alive?