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Forget New Year Resolutions; Ask Questions

February 25, 2015

An inspiring question can be thought of as an ambitious, but actionable question that can influence the way we think about something and can motivate us to bring about that change.

Many of the people who have engineered impressive change in the world spent a lot of their time pursuing big questions. The inspiration for Red Cross, the birth of the internet, the invention of the cell phone can all be traced back to an inspiring question. Also the inspiration for companies like Polaroid, Pixar, Modlettes and many others. These were founded by people who set out to answer game-changing questions about why something was lacking in the market place and how that need could be met.

How can we use inspiring questions to further our own agendas? We can use inspiring questions to encourage us to step back and consider possible ways to change our lives or reinvent our careers. By asking for example, how can I change myself to meet changing conditions in my industry? Or How might I change the methods of learning to adjust to the increasing time demands in the corporate world?

It is interesting that we don't usually equate "asking a question" with "taking action". By just putting an inspiring question out there in front of you, you start to engage with it.

I read recently that a University of Illinois study found that when people are trying to motivate themselves to do something, questions actually work better than commands, or statements. In other words, asking "Will I do X?" or "How might I do X?" is more motivating than declaring "I will do X." The researchers found that stating a challenge as a question had the effect of immediately getting people to start thinking about that challenge, why it might be worth doing, how it might be done.

Questions invariably spark the imagination. A question represents a puzzle; once it has been raised it demands an answer. In this way questions trigger us to begin to act in order to solve the problem, they help us to "organise our thinking around what we don't know," to do research and follow a trail.

However, not all questions are equal; some are more motivating and inspiring than others. Should we paint our conference rooms walls green or blue is not a very inspiring question whereas, "How can we create a more collaborative environment?" is a much more inspiring and open question.

Think about the great challenges in your particular environment in 2015 and decide how you can build your own inspiring question. Look for a tough problem that needs solving and then frame some powerful questions to attack the challenge. An inspiring question may involve an issue that is right in front of you, though you may have to "step back" to see it in a new light.

When you find your inspiring question be prepared to stay with it, live it. We have become too accustomed to getting quick answers to our daily questions on Google, but an inspiring question calls for a different style of research. This may lead to new ways of thinking, and a breakthrough along the way. As Einstein once said, "It's not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer."