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Hal Gregersen: Every innovator we interviewed either in the business world or the government world or the social venture world – they all excelled at asking the right question. They knew how to create a space and environment around them that let the new right question surface and emerge to take them down a completely different path. And not only did they know how to do it themselves, they knew how to teach someone else how to do it. And both parts are critical because the world we’re going into, the next five, ten, fifteen, twenty years – I can’t imagine it being easier, simpler, you know, less uncertain than what we’re living in today. It’s gonna be wild out there in the future. And the only way to unlock the solutions to that wild terrain we’re walking into is to build this capacity in ourselves and the people around us to ask the right question.  

Peter Drucker said “There’s nothing more dangerous than the right answer to the wrong question.” And that, I think, is why we have institutional gridlock, government gridlock, businesses being stuck, non-growth – is because they’re asking all the wrong questions and they don’t know it. And it’s dangerous not only for them but for all of us. 

And so, for me, not just as leaders, the most important leadership skill is learning how to ask the right questions. And we need to not only do this ourselves and with our people at work but there is another generation growing up that is walking into a world that’s totally foreign and difficult and will be more challenging for them than it ever is for us. 

And those children – I know the data from U.S. school systems and I have a sense of it from around the world – most kids when they go to school they are full of questions like four year olds are, but when they start getting evaluated A, B, C, 90 percent, 80 percent, the data show questions shut down. The average high school student in the United States asks one question per month of content, substance, in a classroom. It’s done. Contrast that with the Steve Jobs, the Jeff Bezos of the world who are innovators. They had adults who cared about their questions, listened, responded, engaged, and as a result they became who they were. 

All those children out there need adults like you and me to build their questioning capacity so that when they grow up to take the roles we’ve got today, they will be capable like they’ve never been before to take on challenges that we’ve never faced before.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

More from the Big Idea for Tuesday, May 28 2013

Discipline and Practice

No one has more questions than a 4-year old. It is a reflection of the child's development at this age and the way the child is experiencing the world. So what happens when the child grows older a... Read More…

 

How to Ask the Right Question

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