Whether we’re shading in circles on a test at school or presenting solutions to our colleagues at work, it’s clear we live in a society that rewards the right answers instead of the right questions – the ones that have the power to disrupt the status quo. It’s a reality so embedded in our psyche that often asking questions – a task that once came naturally at 4-years old – is now uncomfortable, if not completely daunting. But how can we reverse this Questioning Crisis for ourselves and the next generation to encourage the innovative thinking that only the right questions can provoke?
This was the motivation behind The 4-24 Project, a community dedicated to rekindling the provocative power to ask the right questions in adults so they can pass this crucial skill onto the next generation. The creative capacity is at its height between the ages of 4 and 24. 4-24 is committed to preserving this childlike wonder during these critical ages. But first, it starts with us.
By setting aside 4 minutes every 24 hours (totaling one full day each year) to ask better questions, we’re not only able to see our own personal and professional challenges from entirely new angles. We’re able to pass and preserve the invaluable notion of curiosity to the world’s 1.85 billion children for a lifetime of significant service. With the challenges of global society growing more complex and profound by the minute, it could be the greatest legacy we leave behind.
Questions aren’t just means to an end; they’re a journey. Start your questioning quest by reviewing the following resources – and go back to a time where there was no right or wrong answer, just possibilities.
Snapshot: The foundation of the 4-24 Project rests on you setting aside just 4 minutes every 24-hours (totaling one full day each year) to ask nothing but questions about your most vexing personal or professional challenge that day. Consider it a “QuestionBurst” as you rapidly dump all the questions out of your head. Once the 4 minutes is complete, identify the “best” questions and start answering them. Write all your questions down in a “Question Journal” so you can start tracking progress around your questioning capacity over time, and be sure to share your own journey here.
Example: Suppose you’re having trouble gaining customer awareness for a new product. Spend 4 minutes asking just questions around this challenge (for example, “Why aren’t customers noticing this product? If money was no object, what could we do to change this?”)
I’ve spent a lifetime studying the minds of some of the greatest innovators in the world, from Steve Jobs to Jeff Bezos. While their innovation skills are (or were) extraordinary on all levels, their incredible foresight around future challenges and solutions all stemmed from one core habit: questioning.
Jobs’ and Bezos’ questioning journeys began from provocative professional passions – a spark I aim to ignite in Fortune 500 companies and classrooms around the world through workshops on innovation and change. But I know from firsthand experience this simple exercise can be just as valuable in our personal lives if used regularly. That’s why I began the 4-24 Project: to create a community that encourages us all to set aside just 4 minutes every 24 hours to ask better questions and truly understand which ones we are living that day. Doing this not only helps us think more innovatively, but more introspectively – a reflective, restorative pause in an otherwise chaotic world.
The power of constantly asking better questions extends beyond just you and me. One look at my grandchildren helps me remember the pure wonder of childhood, where innate curiosity and questions brim over at every turn. At some point in the timelines of life, however, the energizing power of asking the right questions, the ones that put life’s greatest mysteries into sharp focus, is tragically short-circuited. We live in a world where answers matter most, where accepting reality for what it is trumps probing the world for what it might be. In today’s complex, wild terrain, I fear the day that this “short circuiting” occurs for my grandchildren and the next generation of leaders. After all, the moment we stop asking better questions is the moment we stop innovating better solutions to today’s vexing challenges.
To survive the tsunamis of uncertainty, we need a reliable tool that’s capable of keeping curiosity and creativity alive throughout our lifetimes so we can preserve and pass this crucial skill onto the world’s 1.85 billion children. Questioning is the tool that made Jobs ask, “Why does a computer need a fan?” It’s also what made Bezos ask, “What can I market online?” And I believe it’s the same competency we can use to ask ourselves, and ultimately teach our children to ask, “How can I make the world safer, better and stronger tomorrow?”
MIT Sloan Leadership Executive Director, Catalytic Questioner, Creative Photographer
An innovation and leadership guru, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, and co-author of “The Innovator’s DNA” (with Clayton Christensen and Jeff Dyer), Hal Gregersen challenges organizations and individuals to question the way we think and act to make our world a better, more creative place.
While Hal’s expertise expands across all areas of innovative leadership, his current area of focus is the art and skill of questioning. Inspired by the words of Peter Drucker – “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question” – Hal has garnered firsthand research from some of the most respected leaders in the world. Hal’s findings were not just insight into how great leaders should behave, but a realization that questions can preserve both our own and our children’s innate curiosity, creating keys to unlock today’s most profound challenges. As a result, he founded the 4-24 Project.
To grasp how leaders find and ask the right questions – ones that disrupt the world – Hal is now studying 200+ renowned business and government leaders. This question-centric project is surfacing insights into how leaders build better questions to unlock game-changing solutions. The first article from the project – “Bursting the CEO Bubble” (March/April 2017 Harvard Business Review) – explores how senior leaders can ask better questions to unlock what they don’t know they don’t know – before it’s too late.
Beyond the 4-24 Project, Hal is the creator of the unique executive education experience “Leadership and the Lens: Learning at the Intersection of Innovation and Image-Making.” The course draws on Hal’s two passions – photography and innovation–to teach participants how to ask radically better questions to change their impact as leaders. Hal also regularly delivers inspirational keynote speeches, motivational executive seminars and transformational coaching experiences. He also works with a diverse set of companies to help them master the challenges of innovation and change, from Discovery Channel to IBM to the World Economic Forum.
To learn more about Hal and his projects, visit www.halgregersen.com
What questions are making headlines today? I’ve created this blog as a resource for articles and/or videos related to the 4-24 Project’s message – whether my own or those of powerful questioning advocates. I invite you to use and share insights within as you move your own questioning journey forward.
Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions
When you’re the CEO of a large organization—or even a small one—your greatest responsibility is to recognize whether it requires a major change in direction. Indeed, no bold new course of action can be launched without your say-so. Yet your power and privilege leave you insulated—perhaps more than anyone else in the company—from information that might challenge your assumptions and allow you to perceive a looming threat or opportunity. Ironically, to do what your exalted position demands, you must in some way escape your exalted position.
How the Most Successful People Ask Questions
Most companies hold brainstorming sessions that identify solutions, but Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and coauthor of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, suggests holding “question-storming” sessions that think of nothing but questions about a problem for a given period of time.
Hal Gregersen at the SAP Executive Summit
Hal Gregersen discusses how asking the right questions can lead to disruptive innovation.
Finding the Right Questions to Ask to Resolve Your Company’s Issues
Every great innovative entrepreneur – from Jeff Bezos to Steve Jobs – has been good at one thing: asking questions. What if? Why? Why not? The seed for every innovation came from a question no one had been willing to ask, says Hal Gregersen, a professor of innovation at the global business graduate school INSEAD.
Let a thousand innovators emerge
CHINA’S “manufacturing miracle” has produced unprecedented growth for the country in the past three decades, drastically elevating its standing in the global arena and significantly improving the living standard of Chinese citizens. Yet, most recently, there have been signs of flagging growth as China grapples with increasing labour wages, an ageing population and appreciating currency.
It is time to empower the millennial generation
Winston Churchill once said, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
Teachers Should Reward Questions, Not Just Answers
According to a paper in the journal Communication Education, an average child aged between six and 18 asks only one question per one-hour class per month — a number that starkly contrasts with the innate curiosity exhibited by an average four-year-old.
Hal Gregersen (Author, Innovator’s DNA) interviews 3 Chief Innovation Officers to find out what questions lead to breakthrough insights.
Use Catalytic Questioning to Solve Significant Problems
For almost twenty years, I have refined a systematic approach to uncovering the right questions—those that start to unlock entirely different solutions and perspectives—with hundreds of teams around the world, from the C-suite to the shop floor.
How To Ask The Right Question
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.
Transform 2013 By Turning Goals Into Questions
Many of us have set a few goals during the past couple of weeks, and a few of us have set many goals. But we all know that goals set are not necessarily goals met.
We may be facing a Questioning Crisis, but there are still many curious minds at work that dare to ask “What if?” Learn more about these creative souls below or at the 4-24 Project’s YouTube channel. Share these stories with the children in your lives and check back often for new additions.
Have a questioning story of your own to tell? Send us a video that demonstrates how building better questions helped you or those around you be more innovative.
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