Friday, 13 September 2019

Being Wrong, Part 2

In part one of this post on being wrong (here), I had read a sample of MIT Professor Hal Gregersen's book (2018a), and said that I would report back on his book later in the year.

It took me some time to get a copy of his book in order to review it, but the job is finally done, thanks to an Audible copy (which also means that I can't provide page numbers for the quotes, sorry!).

One of the key pieces of value I got from Hal Gregersen's book were the clear details on how to effectively brainstorm, based on his teaching experience. He proposes that success in brainstorming comes from generating questions, not from providing answers. In fact, he sees providing answers as limiting the conversation (2018a).

Gregersen (2018a) proposes that powerful leaders get to ask all the questions, while their staff are there to provide the answers. This power 'over' others may limit the conversation (Marshall, 1984), as those who are “power hungry aren’t seekers of truth; they are seekers of advantage” (Gregersen, 2018a). Ouch. It is as if an organisation can have a "toxic" way of asking questions, in addition to having toxic leadership. This is an interesting idea which the adoption of Gregersen's approach to brainstorming would help to circumvent.

Further, Gregersen suggests that asking good questions becomes synergistic, melting barriers and kick-starting creative, lateral and - in hindsight - 'obvious' solutions which would not normally have been arrived at (2018a). However, Gregersen also notes that to “question anything fundamental is by definition to challenge” (2018a), so the organisation must be willing to challenge the process, and to have what is - in essence - an authentic leadership approach (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).

The approach taken to brainstorming is detailed well, in three stages:
  1. Stage setting: Invite a group - is possible, people with "no direct experience with the problem and whose worldview is starkly different" from ours - to the brainstorming session. We pitch the problem to the group in two minutes (or less) (Gregersen, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c).
  2. Brainstorm questions: We then set a timer for four minutes, and together generate as many questions as we can about the problem. There are two rules: we don’t answer any questions, and we don’t explain why we’re asking about the problem. We aim for 15-20+ questions in the time. Record the questions word for word as they are proposed (we might need to record the session or to have several people to record) (Gregersen, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c).
  3. Identify our "quest": Review the questions together. Select "a few 'catalytic' questions", those which we think might be the most disruptive. If we don't find anything that is looking disruptive enough, we repeat step 2. Rinse repeat a third time if we have to. Then we commit to pursuing at least one new idea "as a truth seeker", not as a defender of the status quo, and see what that does for the problem. This is a very action-oriented section, requiring the "innovator's focus on the 'job to be done'" (Gregersen, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c).
And, if you are wondering, catalytic questions are those which reframe a situation so that we can see a different solution. They give us those forehead-slapping, "of course!" moments where we have no idea why we couldn't see this particular solution before. Catalytic questions allow us to make more effective and longer lasting change, which creates competitive advantage (Gregersen, 2018a). Catalytic questions give us a paradigm shift, like Elon Musk using AA batteries embedded in the chassis to power Teslas rather than an enormous heavy bulky battery which limits design options.

Professor Gregersen has been working on this approach to brainstorming for a number of years, and has had a lot of success with it. The book is very interesting, an easy read, and the brainstorming is worth a try as well.

Worth the purchase. 


Sam

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