Episode 59: The Answers Lie in the Questions

Good morning! This is Jimmy Williams with Live a Life by Design. Your Monday morning moments of motivation from the PhD of positivity and the Master’s of motivation, Jimmy Williams here. I got to tell you I am excited about our topic today. And let me refresh your memory, just a moment. If you think back to last week’s episode when we talked about clarity. After that wonderful interview of Karen Martin, I looked back, had some thoughts. And I began to increase my thinking toward clarity. What it really did for me was actually create questions in my mind. And as I wrote some of these questions down, ’cause you know, I’m one of those that think with ink, but anyway, I like to write my questions down and then I’m looking at them in those questions created more questions with greater depth. Maybe more breath. And then the next thing you know, I got further in that question mode and then continued to look at the types of questions I was creating, and it brought to mind a book that I had read many months ago, and I wanted to bring some of those strategies today to help you gain some clarity, some leadership, some growth in the ability to ask questions.

Before we start though, let me just bring a story to light. This story is actually founded out of Papua, New Guinea. The tribe in Papua, New Guinea was one that was very industrious, very innovative for their economic and their ecological area. And the tribal leader was an older statesmen type person. An elder that didn’t really come down and meet with the people unless they had a concern or question. So one day a villager came to him and had some concern or question about what she would do with the loss of her mate. So he began to ask questions of the villager and she was replying back with answers she knew, and he sent her home with two or three questions. Such as what would you have done if he had been here to help you with your situation of gathering food or building the hut or whatever you need to do. And what would you do differently if you knew he was not here but gone on an extended hunt, or he had taken time somewhere in the mountains and he asked her to think on these things and he asked her to come back in two days. Well, and she returned in those two days she came to him and he asked one simple question. ‘Did you find your answer in the question?’ And she looked at him and she gave an answer of ‘Yes, I found an answer and I found several answers’. And the point he’s making is that he the great ruler of this tribe was known for his wisdom, not for giving the answers, but for helping his tribe members find the answers.

You see there’s something we need to do with that lesson with our children. With our members of our company, for example, our team-mates. We need to help them find their own answers because we all have a different basis of history. We have a different basis of experience and we may find a different answer to the same issue than your teammate just across the way from you. And so the point I’m making with this is that brought to mind to me a great book called, Answers Are Found in the Questions. In other words, the title of the book is Questions Are the Answers. So my point I’m making is that if you think about how you find solutions to today’s challenges. Think about this Covid-19 situation. I am certain that all of us at this point have about had all of this self isolation, self quarantining, whatever you’re doing where you are separated from the ones you love or you’re separated from your team at work or you’re just basically you had all of your kids you can handle in one home for a suspended of period time.

We got our entire house full. So we’ve got our daughter’s cat, as I’ve said before on previous episodes. We’ve got both daughters here. My wife and I didn’t realize how quiet our home had gotten until the kids moved back home because of Covid-19. So, love our kids, but we also enjoy the quiet times here at home, where we can sit out on the patio and just enjoy the birds and the breeze, and you know, life is good. But I digress. You know discussions on leaders who exhibit greater knowledge with their teams are led by questions. Great questions come from great leaders. And what I don’t like to see happen in the group is where you have one domineering person that has all the questions but no one else gets a word in edgewise and then perhaps the group as a whole comes to the conclusion that is not the right or the best conclusion for their challenge.

So how many of us as leaders feel we need to know all facets of our organization to be seen as a good leader? It reminds me of the story of Henry Ford. The Ford Motor Company was being sued for a product liability issue and Henry Ford was called to the stand in the courtroom by a plaintiff’s attorney that thought he would twist Mr. Ford into a pretzel. He was asking very detailed questions about the mechanics, the engineering, the function of different components of an automobile that he alleged caused the damage or the crash that hurt his client. The lawyer, while Mr. Ford was on the stand, asked a question such as the braking system. How does the braking system with the power brakes and the fluid, and how does all of that function on the car?

Now the Ford family had been one of the great innovators of automation at their time. You know, they had come out with the model A, and the Model T and all of these first cars that were to come into our country. And he is no original Ford. He is the grandson of Henry Ford and he told the attorney he says, “I am not familiar with how the power braking system works in detail. I can tell you the concept”. And the lawyer kept digging and asking great questions about, ‘Well, no, we want to know exactly what does this part do?’ And he asked the name of a particular part in Mr. Ford, of course, said he did not know. And so basically the attorneys surmised that he said as CEO of Ford Motor Company, you don’t have a clue about your product or its dangers to the public. And he said how would you respond to that? He said, basically, Mr. Ford, if you would get me a telephone I could pick up that phone on my desk if I were there now and dial one of my many engineers that design, install, test, and continue to redesign components of our automobiles. That’s what a great leader does. A great leader is not one that knows every facet or why would he need to hire any team members to augment his skill-set? No, a great leader knows the questions to ask to gain the right answers for the challenges ahead.

That to me was a great story that I’d heard many years ago for Henry Ford. And when I was a child, I will tell you I was fascinated by and maybe curious about many of the activities that occurred around me. My dad, I got to tell you the man is mechanically inclined. I did not inherit that from him. My dad has the capability to take about any engine and if it sounds like it’s missing or it’s clanking or it’s not running smoothly, in any event. My dad could take, it seemed like a screwdriver and maybe a pair of pliers. And make that thing home like a sewing machine. He could simply said his ear down toward the carburetor, that’s what we used to have on cars before fuel injection. Tells you my age again, but he can set his ear down to that engine and work with the mixture of fuel and air on the carburetor until it was perfect and I always admired that about my dad. And so I started asking questions. “Dad, Why does it do this? Why do you do what you do with the screwdriver? How does the carburetor work?” You know, I was just piling on these questions. And my dad would be very patient, at first. But after about maybe, I don’t know a hundred of these whys and how statements, you know his patience would become a little bit thinner, but he always did his best to explain to me in detail the answers to my many questions.

I am still in awe of how my dad can retain such vast knowledge of the world. But you see the asking of questions was the key for me to gain knowledge. That’s why in the book we’re going to discuss today, this book allows us to understand how questions form and reveal the answers to our challenges. So today we’re going to focus on this book, and I discovered in the book four actions that we incorporate now in our business. These traits are of great leaders and you will find that if you implement these four actions, and they become second nature to you, that you two will be a much better leader, much better parent. Just a much better person.

These four results are vital to your success as a collective organization or as an individual leader. Think back on the past three months of life and reflect on those opportunities that you missed by failing to ask the critical questions of your team. Maybe you didn’t want to appear weak because you didn’t know the answer yourself. This fallacy of a leader being blessed with all knowledge, of all aspects of business has caused many potentially great leaders to fail to reach their potential. Do you surround yourself with people just like you? The same experiences, same education? The glaring answer for me is of course not. The reason for adding people to your team is to provide a greater, more broad base of knowledge to increase the value your company brings to the marketplace. Heaven forbid, if all of my team worked like me would never get anything done.

Just a side note, I call myself the 80% man at the office. And all that simply means is I’m a quick start. I get in the middle of it. I get the information I need and I start running toward the solution and then I hand the ball off to one of my capable teammates and they carry it to the goal line. But at the end of the day, I literally perform three tasks for our company. Just three. As a CEO and leader of our company though, I perform one of these tasks with great skill. And that is vision creation. What do we need to do to resolve the concerns and questions of our clients tomorrow?

And one of the other tasks that I perform is the development and leadership of the solutions team that we utilize to create the solutions our clients demand and require for their lifestyles to be maintained during retirement. I am passionate about the three tasks and I can perform them flawlessly. However, hundreds of additional important tasks are always required if you’re in any company, and they’re required to be performed literally every day to keep your service levels as close to excellent as possible.

You know, we’ve added people on our team that are experts in marketing, social media, client service trading, operations, communications, excetera. I may know a lot about some of these areas, but I know little about others. But what I do know is how to ask those questions of each of those areas that I do not know that’ll help our company and our team gain confidence moving forward. So to gain clarity, remember last week’s episode on all aspects of our company functions. I ask questions of our team members responsible for those areas.

In his best-selling book, Questions Are the Answer, Hal Gregerson applies the logical philosophy that leaders are problem solvers and in such roles must be skilled or become skilled at asking the right questions to gain the insight and solutions to solve problems. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? You know these things are easily determined to be something you can implement when you read the book. The harder part of this is putting all of this into action.

So the first result of asking questions is great questions engage and energize. It’s not a simple task to ask questions that stir the minds of your listeners or team. Not only must you master the skill of asking questions. You must ask them in a way that your listeners are motivated to move forward in finding the solution. When you expect engagement from your team, it is better to seek input than to simply dictate orders that you think are the mandate for your project. You know those people. Have you ever worked with someone that just told you here’s how to get it done? You did it just to get the project out the door, but it wasn’t perhaps maybe your most fun or your best quality. The issue boils down to sometimes you have leaders that just want to get the project done. Well how valuable do you believe that makes you? If you’re a simple robot doing exactly what he told you to do, with no creativity of your own, no use of your experience or understanding how in the world would that make us feel valued in that company?

You know, why don’t we seek more input from our teams as leaders? Are we fearful of the appearance that we are weak in our lack of direction? No, I don’t think so. I think it is more basic than that. I believe most leaders lack the capacity to ask the questions in a manner that creates a desire in the mind of the listeners that provokes, encourages, or simply motivates them to take action. Many questions can be improved by reframing your thought. For example, instead of simple questions such as, “What do you think about our new client onboarding system?” It may reap better input and ultimate results if you ask, “What would you do to create a more robust responsive and intuitive client onboarding system?”

See this question gives considerable thought before you verbalize the next question. Your team, your spouse, your children, excetera to stir engagement and energy from your listeners. The first action of the questioning process, if you want to become a greater question creator and asking person is that great questions engage and energize. If your questions to your team, your family is not getting results you wish, think about your question. Ask a better question. Ask a more deliberate question.

The second action that, you’re going to laugh when I bring this one up, but it brings to mind to me some things even I remember as a child. I’ve always been real creative in my mind, and I – some people would say that it was daydreaming, but really it’s brainstorming. You know, see brainstorming is often confused with its second cousin twice removed, you know, daydreaming. Some of the greatest philosophers and entrepreneurs of history confessed to scheduling periods within each day to do nothing but brainstorm on their current situation. This Focus time of clearing your mind of the facts and allowing freedom to cognitively roam the areas of your mind that allow for the discovery of new ideas and processes is so critical to your success. So the second action of the questioning process is to brainstorm for questions.

Now too many times we’ve heard ‘brainstorming for solutions’. This is a little different. When you’re brainstorming for questions, you are trying to dive into a deeper level of thinking to ask the most appropriate question to get the ideal answer for the situation. And too often the word brainstorm denotes the finding of answers. Let’s flip this around, utilize brainstorming for defining better questions. By changing the outcome of this activity you will find your mindset to be one of challenge and maybe some confusion at first.

With pen and paper in hand, or I like to even use a dry erase boards so it’s much bigger, I can see what I’m developing. I can follow the flow of things as they come out of my mind and go to that dry erase board. Allow yourself to ask the hard questions within confining your thoughts to your limiting conditions. What I’m really saying is, is just let the thoughts flow. Let the questions come. It doesn’t matter if you have the background to answer it or not. Just get those questions down, on paper on a dry erase board anywhere.

It doesn’t matter if you lack all the capital you require for your outcome. So I’m not looking at any limiting conditions placed on this thought process. I’m merely letting words flow, ideas get created, draw it on a piece of paper. Whatever’s necessary. Just give yourself the freedom to explore your thoughts. You know, one of the greatest television series and the subject to many successful movies formed my childhood. Man, I’ll tell you when I was home on the night this show is on you can be guaranteed I was in front of the TV to watch this show. Now many of you are going to, at some point assert a word when I mention this show and talk about it.

I know what you going to say, you’re gonna say man, that Jimmy is a geek. Let me tell you that show that I love so much, that was so creative when I was a child was Star Trek. I hear ya, I’ll probably have some trekkies out there listening to this podcast across the world. But Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the show, was a wonderfully creative mind. Many credit the ultimate flip phone of the 1980s carried back to the idea of the communicator used by the actors on the Star Trek series. You know they’d flip it open, and it’d make this little noise and they’d call the ship. Well that little flippin’ of the communicator became the 1980s flip phone that we all bought in use for a period of time. You know it had been stated that Roddenberry never allowed himself to think laterally, but rather in multiple dimensions of time and space. He was so much further ahead in his approach to asking questions and creativity and thinking than many of his contemporaries of that day. When you look at the Star Trek series and what they really broke open in terms of possibilities for theatrical presentations. So why can’t we do the same?

The simple thing is this, my belief is that many of us are not allowed to brainstorm as younger children because it appears that we are not paying attention. You know, I do not understand that not all, I’m sorry, I do understand that not all lack of focusing is creative. But how do we know which child is creating the next hovercraft or cryogenic preservation chamber to halt the aging of the human body.

To determine wisdom, Naguib Mahfouz quoted, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions”. Become a more wise person by adopting this second action of the questioning process and brainstorm not for solutions, but for questions.

I want to thank you for listening to this podcast every week. We have gotten so many great reviews and ratings on iTunes and on our platforms that tell us you are getting the point. We’re trying to bring you something not just entertaining, but something informative. Something empowering that helps each of you have a much better week than you otherwise would have. Here is a review on iTunes, a five star review from chicagomaureen. She says, “Jimmy could catch me on the worst possible day and I am instantly transformed into being my best self after hearing his perspective on everyday life. It is so easy to get caught up in the negative messages in the news etcetera. I have found strategies from this podcast to protect my confidence and eliminate the negative noise around me”. Well, thank you, chicagomaureen for your 5 star review and your wonderful ratings today. This is why we are here for the podcast. We’re here for you. To help you live life bigger, better and bolder than you otherwise could.

And on our line of questioning today, I have one for you real quick. If you could only take a minute out of your day and do something that would help others would you do it? If that 1-minute didn’t really require any outlay of capital on your behalf, would you proceed? I’m asking for your help today in getting out an iTunes rating or review for us. Simply go to our website at livealifeby.design and we have a video down near the bottom of the page on how to leave a rating and review on iTunes. Thank you again for your help. And thank you chicagomaureen for your excellent rating and review Now, let’s get back to the show.

The third action of questioning will sound a little obtuse for this topic. Clear your head and heart. How does that help you with questions? While many of today’s greatest question creators are people like Oprah Winfrey, Ray Dalio and Marc Benioff that utilize a formal practice of meditation to find quiet space in their mind. The actual benefit is that it removes the noise of the day and allows them to find focus which brings a better thought process to their question creation. Now, I’m not advocating that you must become a meditation guru, but find a method of getting to a quiet point in your mind that allows you to disregard the outside noise that so easily occupies our thinking.

Many times when I’m in the middle of a large creative project, I cannot get my mind to shut down for the day to even allow sleep. I literally place myself in a state of emptiness of mind by picturing activities to happen that stop the noise. Now don’t laugh but here we go. I’ve always been very honest with our audience and I’m going to be very honest with you today. One of the techniques I use to quiet my mind at night when I can’t otherwise get it to do what I want it to do and allow me to sleep is I in my mind picture a giant hand reaching over to a record player needle and lifting it from the album and setting it down on the arm of the phonograph. Now, you may be too young to know what this means but it is a big, big part of my early childhood and associated with sounds. I mean we played Elvis tunes. My dad had the largest collection of Elvis records I could ever imagine when I was a child. We had everything on vinyl. Well to tell you how things come back around, someone asked a question, ‘hey, if we could make vinyl again, would it be something people would collect?’ And the answer is yes, and the audiences want this vinyl so badly, they’ll pay a significant premium over what they could find on iTunes or some other music supply platform.

And then another activity I do to get my mind to emptiness, is I simply close my eyes and focus on my breathing.

All I’m trying to do is bring my breath to a motion of in through the nostrils and out through my mouth and I’m just sitting there focusing, listening to that and I may even take my hand and just put it right over my stomach where I can feel my stomach going up and down with my lungs inhaling and exhaling. What that’s really doing for me is helping me focus on a central point that takes the noise away from my mind.

People say that this disciplined immersion in the quietness and stillness causes them to question what matters on the deepest possible level. It allows them to get to a much more aware state of mind. And there is evidence that finding a quiet space to simply clear your mind and heart, boost your creative thinking as well by creating the space for new questions and insights to arise. To create your most effective questions. You’ve got to clear your head and your heart. By doing that you then make space for even bigger questions to tackle greater challenges.

So lastly, the fourth action of finding answers through questions is to aim for the biggest questions. You know, don’t try to solve small problems all day. The world is shaken by those gigantic entrepreneurs that tackle the big questions. I’m reminded of Elon Musk who wants to take the position that man can travel to the Moon and beyond as simply as they can get on an airplane or a train. He wants to make travel to the outer space as commonplace as us getting in our own car and driving up the street.

Elon Musk does not bother himself with the small questions of the day. No, he aims for the stars, literally in his endeavors. SpaceX is what has come to fruition out of these types of big questions. And his approach to resolving them is to continue challenging his team by asking the difficult questions of how would they accomplish this. And his engineers are doing an outstanding job making new breakthroughs everyday in this process.

In this realm of developing questions one can find himself asking very difficult question such as this. Why did my sister, of three minor children in the home, have to die from leukemia at age 35. I have asked this question to God and to myself on many occasions after her passing. These types of questions are called divergent questions. It’s the type of question that invites creative thinking and dialogue rather than a predetermined answer. Sometimes we won’t find the end answer but we’ll find statements or answers that lead us to it. To aim for the biggest questions you may need to create synergy by asking catalytic questions, or questions that act as a catalyst knocking down barriers by challenging past assumptions and creating new energy for pursuing solutions.

Don’t allow yourself to limit your capabilities on developing bigger questions that give rise to the solutions you seek. Too often we don’t consider our potential for becoming greater than we are because our experiences to this point have not taken us out of our comfort zone. That’s right. I’ve often said on this podcast to realize your potential to achieve greatness you must become comfortable with discomfort.

It is time you became the most uncomfortable person, you know. ‘Cause you got capability within you that can be realized if you simply allow yourself to utilize these four actions in your life to become a better question developer. Ask the hard questions. Ask the bold questions. Develop and utilize questions as a basis for development and discovery of new solutions. You have it within you. To recap our four actions to finding answers in these questions. Number 1: great questions engage and energize. Number 2: brainstorm for questions not answers. Number 3: clear your heart and head. And number 4: aim for the biggest questions.

Go out, seek opportunities to hone your skills in asking questions. You’ll become more aware of your psychological prowess and innovative capabilities for creating value in the marketplace. Good supervisors appreciate great questions from their team members. Leaders, you must learn to stimulate the capabilities of your team to engage them with questions.

And if you wish to read the book and learn more about the skills of question asking, go to Jimmy’s Top Reads. By clicking the link of the book, you’ll be redirected to Amazon and you can order your book there. It has truly been an honor and privilege to share a few moments with you on this Monday. I hope that you begin this week not the same as you did every week before, but in a better frame of mind now that you can ask the hard questions. Don’t hold yourself to limits. Go out and ask those questions that make a difference to those around you. And in the meantime keep Living Life by Design.

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