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Do you even know what questions to ask?

Great executives and managers seem to intuitively know what they don’t know.   But it is not at all uncommon to not even know what questions to ask.

Who would have thought about COVID 19 and public’s panic responses?

Image credit: Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

One week we all thought we had our responses dedicated to supply chain disruptions. By the next week it was protecting our associates and employees.  And by the third week, we witnessed mass panic shopping, closures of most all venues, limits to how many could be in a store at once, empty shelves and much more. Most every white-collar worker was telecommuting.  What could follow?  Have you called your team to brainstorm the next steps in this ever-moving black swan event?

The” black swan” event questions

How do you avoid being sideswiped by the new product you never saw coming, or by the “black swan” event no-one ever thought of that might threaten your business?

Speaking with a roundtable group of fellow associates, most all of them CEOs, we addressed this question and spent an hour brainstorming how to protect against just such a lack of forward vision.

Scenario planning: “What if?”

One CEO stated that she engages regularly in scenario planning with her executives, asking “what if” questions to explore the edges of the group’s thinking about everything from disruptions of supply to changes in customer taste to acts of God such as floods, worldwide virus attacks, or earthquake.  The group agreed that this is an excellent process, engaging the entire team and members’ experience to explore the unknown.

But what if no-one thinks of the right questions?

[Email readers, continue here…]    But what if no one in the group thinks to ask the pertinent question that leads to the most impactful unknown?  What if that threat is outside of the experience of anyone in the room?  What if no one knows what to ask?

Using fiction for clues to the new reality

Another CEO chimed in with an answer that made us all think.  Most every technology advance has been predicted in works of fiction years before the fact, he stated.  Why not look to fiction for clues?  From devastating events like tsunamis to future user interfaces predicted in such films as Star Trek or Minority Report, there are liberating clues within the experiences of most of us.  Think of Flash Gordon or Dick Tracy, characters from many decades ago with communication devices that have not only come to life but have been far surpassed the reality.  Tom Cruise’s virtual handling of graphics by hand movements came true only a few years later, even popularized as a game with Microsoft’s Kinect system driven by body movement alone.

And how about “Contagion” and the many books and movies about pandemics?

Broadening our frame of reference

Our frame of reference must be as broad as possible when asking “what if” questions to protect our future.  Read more science fiction if you are involved in technology.  Read more disaster novels to expand your thinking to the very edge, even if only for a minute as you examine what and how to react to the unknowns that are sure to someday challenge us.

And stay safe as new coronaviruses seem to infect the world’s population every twenty years or so.  Plan even now for the next one which will surely arrive on our shores after this one.

  • Michael O'Daniel

    Oh God, please don’t hire screenwriters. Critical thinking is not a major skill for most of them. They write according to formulas.

    If your group isn’t asking the right questions, consider bringing in a facilitator, ideally someone from the emergency management / disaster preparedness / risk assessment field. Unfortunately most of them are pretty busy right now.

  • I guess this means everyone should be hiring screenwriters as their corporate futurists. 🙂

  • Kent Deines

    From a list of ways to tell the difference between bright and gifted student:
    The bright student knows the right answer.
    The gifted student knows the right question.

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