We’ve learned that asking better questions is the best place to start when applying the futures framework. Asking good questions is hard! Our brains are programmed to find a good enough solution right away and act upon it. However, when facing the toughest problems, we need to build a deeper understanding first in order to come up with valuable insights. This requires asking better questions.
James Dyson, in his pursuit to design a better vacuum, famously asked many questions. His first ones were probably not that good, yet with persistence and curiosity, he explored his assumptions and reframed his problem. Each time he prototyped a solution it led to better questions. 5,127 prototypes later and he reinvented the vacuum cleaner by introducing the first bagless option in 1983. The best questions help us step back and give us the space to thoroughly understand the heart of the problem from the outset.
Dale Carnegie noted that you should ask questions that “the other person will enjoy answering.” Great questions drive understanding, produce self-disclosure, and help deepen the understanding of the responder’s context. They are fundamental to developing empathy for others, so that I am producing solutions with them, not just for them. (Imagine if Dyson had never vacuumed himself – or talked to someone who had – his solution would be pretty limited!)
Successful hackathons are built on these kinds of questions. The magic variable isn’t really in having the smartest people there – everyone has a capacity to contribute genius. Putting questions in front of them that identify what they need to know without prescribing a result unlocks that capacity to do something great. This is also why kids are great at driving creative innovation – they ask great questions and challenge all the assumptions. Who says the horse can’t be purple or the raindrops made of orange juice? We forget how much, as adults, we have become serious and made assumptions about what’s possible.
We all need our assumptions challenged. Futures thinking is so good at helping us get past what we believe can’t change to see what actually can. Better questions don’t try to lead you to the answer, rather they give you the opportunity to explore the more fundamental questions that you need to wrestle with as you rethink your approach to a changing world. (After all, you wouldn’t be reading this book if you were convinced you had all the answers.) We’re going to help you think through how to ask better questions – so that you can get to the better answers that work for your organization.
Every chapter in What Comes Next? is followed by a series of questions to help you think through how this applies to you and your community. You can address them on the Preferred Future Canvas. Discuss your thoughts about them with your family, friends and colleagues. Test them out on those who you trust the most. The questions surface very real challenges to our ministry and exploring possible solutions requires a lot of conversation in community with others. It might take some experimentation… but it will be far sooner than 5127 times when you will see the value!