Great Questions: What Would Have to Be True?

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I love a great question.  In fact, I’m kind of a collector of great questions.  In a way, great questions are like baseball cards.  It’s not enough to collect them.  You really want to show them off.  Here’s one of my favorites.  I got this question from Roger Martin and his great book, The Design of Business:

“What would have to be true for that approach to work?”

I use this question when I’m meeting with folks that are really sold on an idea but don’t seem to have done the critical thinking they need to do about its viability.

Here’s an example of how it works:

Imagine that I’m in a meeting with a team that is committed to the Free Market strategy.  Further, they’ve seen a couple good semesters where they’ve launched a good number of groups…but the last three semesters they’ve realized that they’re stuck at 28 groups.  They’re treading water because as soon as they’ve added a new leader or two, an existing leader or two have dropped out.

They’re scratching their heads, wondering how to break free from the rut they’re in.

With me?  Maybe you’ve been there yourself.  This is where Roger Martin’s great question works so well.

“You’re committed to the Free Market strategy.  What would have to be true for that approach to work?”

When you ask this question, it’s important to really drill down on the answers that are generated and keep asking for more information.

For instance, they might say, “We’d need to find some new ways of discovering additional leaders.”  An example of drilling down would be to ask, “Why do you think you’re having such a hard time finding enough new leaders?”  They might say, “The right people are already busy (true) and it’s hard to get busy people to step up and volunteer their time.”  And you might say, “So what would have to be true about your approach for it to work?”

Believe me, this is a goldmine question.  It does take time to drill all the way down to the underlying issues.  But when you do…the team will begin to own the real solution.

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