When we ask the right questions, the answer doesn’t always matter

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There are few days that pass that we don’t talk about change in our office. And even on the days we don’t use the word itself, we talk about its consequences, the fear of it, the desire for it, the consequences from it, and perhaps not often enough, it’s inevitability.

Change is. And we, as people, thrive on it, whether we admit it or not. Need evidence? How about the daily questions we ask, like “What’s for lunch?” “What’s for dinner?” “What are you doing this weekend?” “Is that a new skirt, hair style, tattoo?” Change is around us as surely as the world turns. But really change is inevitable also because of us, as we seek stimulation. Or re-stimulation.

Walk into a smelly room, sit down for ten minutes and suddenly the smell seems to dissipate. Except it hasn’t, your perception of it has. We so quickly become desensitised to stimulation, being smell, taste, fashion, environment. We get bored and we look for something new. We seek out change.

But when business people talk about “change”, what they often mean is “purposeful progress” or what we call positive transformation. Unlike change, it is not universal and it is not inevitable.

Why the distinction? Because change just requires shift, enough to trigger stimulation, to wake us up. But this shift can swing like pendulum, back and forth, going nowhere new, and perhaps nowhere good. We see this very clearly in the resurgence (and re-resurgence) of fashions, as they cycle in and out, to tickle our senses anew.

But positive transformation, now that means something different. It means real newness and this requires a change in perception, not in stimulation. It means changing the person, not the world.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”

Marcel Proust

Clients often come to us with a brief for new thinking, to help them create something they haven’t seen before, to help them inspire their people to think differently. And we put together a process, for asking questions, creating environments, enabling interactions, encouraging dialogue. And then they may ask for the tangible outcome from each stage. This is fair. They are giving us money and they would like something back in their hand to show for it. And a presentation might surface, or perhaps a new identity, or product line. A new communications platform or rationalized brand portfolio. That is valid, and it helps business. But it doesn’t necessarily help progress, or positive transformation.

If the goal is innovation, creativity, progress, then the presentations, the portfolio, the platform, they are useful tools, but they are not the real outcome. If we get it right, if we ask the right questions, in the right way, then the answer is not the outcome. The process itself is the outcome. Because the right questions are the ones that change the thinker, that cause them to see with new eyes. The transformation that they experience will alter their world. And it then becomes inevitable that they will think differently, come up with new ideas, and interact with others in a new way, because they themselves are changed.

Yes, this is a kind of change. But it is not the inevitable kind. And that’s why, when we are ready to stop the pendulum just swinging back and forth and demand that change leads to positive progress, then we need the right questions. And if we get it right, the answers don’t always matter, because the questions will have changed.

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