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Ask simple questions to drive change

Who is our customer? What are we trying to accomplish? How did we get here? What did we learn?

I like simple questions about important things. They strip away marketing speak. They force us to make choices. They expose misunderstanding and misalignment. They make it easy for people to understand take action.

Asking simple questions can make you feel silly. Shouldn’t you already know the answer? Don’t we all know the answer? Why ask a simple question instead of saying something like “How will we leverage our competitive advantage to penetrate this emerging market?”

Often we don’t know the answer to these questions, the answers are inconsistent or very complicated. When a leadership team can’t answer a simple question, you will usually see their teams struggling to grow and execute because they don’t have clear direction. The worst is when the answer is because some exec wants it.

As humans we don’t like uncertainty, we don’t feel comfortable with ambiguity and abstract ideas. So we focus on the color of a button rather than if a product should be built or what are strategy is. Because of this we need to made to focus on what’s important and simple questions do that.

Answering simple questions is hard. You have to make choices and tradeoffs. A simple question calls for  a simple answer in plain language, not overly tortured marketing speak. If you are hedging or hiding it will be obvious.

If you work through this challenge and get to an simple answer it will be easy to understand, to communicate to your team, for teams to take action, to see if you’ve got the wrong answer and make changes.

Next time you are in a meeting ask a simple question and see where it takes you.

Image: An altered image of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Reynolds Center in Washington DC.

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