QUESTIONS THAT WORK WHEN:
Dealing with a Problem
Good questions outrank easy answers.
John F. Kennedy said, “When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” The link between the two makes managers who are facing a crisis or key decision anxious. The fear of mistakes, of missing an opportunity, or of committing other errors of omission paralyze at one extreme and lead to a frenzy of unfocused activity at the other. Uncertainty naturally grows in gray areas, where there are no regulations or clear rules, the places where there is a large degree of subjectivity. It is an environment where people feel worried, threatened, impatient, or suspicious, the place where problems grow.
One reason for anxiety is that we often don't understand our own problem-solving or decision-making processes. We must gather information, create a logical explanation for what has happened, and design a realistic response. Question asking is a way to turn problems into opportunities. I appreciate that that phrase may have a hollow ring. The commentator Christopher Fildes tells the story about a chairman who used to tell his troops, “We don't have problems. We have opportunities, opportunities. Is that clear?” to which someone finally said, “Well, yes, chairman. We do seem to face a large number of insurmountable opportunities.”1 Audrey Rice Oliver knows that problems can be turned around. She is a woman who went from being a teenage single mother living in poverty to running her own software company. Oliver, who was once invited to speak at a White House economic summit, had her own philosophy of handling problems. She said, “Many people are told no in many walks of life and I think you have to evaluate what 'no' means to you… . 'No' means never to some and to me it means for the moment.”2 To overcome obstacles, you need to keep asking a series of positive, progressive questions.