Building a successful venture means consistently making good decisions. The question is how to become great at making good decisions. The answer is to look to Socrates. This ancient philosopher holds the key to an essential leadership skill: ask great questions. The challenge is that too few leaders, managers and employees ask great questions. This is a big problem. Cultures that embrace a culture of questioning thrive and those that fear it either fail or are doomed to mediocrity.
The question is how to nurture this Socratic culture. There are 7 basics ingredients to it.
1. QUEST FOR THE BEST ANSWERS
“Remember that your goal is to find the best answer; not to give the best one you have,” Ray Dailo
Ray Dalio founded Bridgewater, one of the best performing hedge funds in the world. His firm is guided by a set of principles and at the core of those principles is an intense commitment to asking great questions. From how he recruits, to the day to day management, there is a 360 degree culture of asking thought provoking questions.
The key to having a team embrace questioning is see it as a quest for the best answer versus an interrogation. If it is a quest, then everyone has a role to play and different insights to bring to the table. If it feels like an interrogation morale will drop and defensive attitudes will stifle the ability to find the best answer.
2. BE HUMBLE: ADMIT YOU DON’T KNOW
You need to check your ego at the door when you go to work. It gets in the way of finding the best answers. Once your ego is checked, you can be humble and admit when you do not know the answer. This returns us to the questing path. If a team member is missing an answer, then the next question to put forth should help them find it. This eliminates any excuses and sets everyone right back on the path to finding the best possible answers.
The sooner we admit we do not have the answer at hand, the sooner we put our energies towards finding the answer.
3. BUILD STAMINA: GET A BRAIN WORK OUT
Most people can handle a few questions before they experience cognitive overload. In other words, their brain freezes and they experience emotional fatigue. Too many questions with too few answers kicks in the flight response. People can shut down. The good news is that people can build up their stamina so that they can handle more questions.
The best way to do this is the work the brain out like a muscle. Think of it as the same as any gym work out. Engage. Rest. Recover. You will get stronger and better at asking questions and engaging in the quest for answers.
4. EMPOWER EVERYONE
Want to unleash the potential of your team? Yes? Then you will have to ask questions and be up for questing for the best answers.
I recently had lunch with Art Gensler, the founder of the largest design firm in the world. I asked him how he was able to control management at such a large scale. He said, “I don’t.” He applies the power of guiding principles. And he does this through a culture of questions. With so many different sectors, geographies and managers, he says that he encourages people to ask questions. Gensler wants their teams to be curious and to find the best possible answers for their clients. And when you meet Art, you will see that he almost always opens a conversation with a question.
If you want good answers, you need to concentrate on getting them. Our brains are splintered by multitasking. Stanford Professor Clifford Nass’s research showcases how multitasking both reduces the speed of decision making as well as the quality of the decisions generated.
Instead, what you want to engage in is what Nobel Laureate Economist Daniel Kahneman calls Systems 2 thinking; which is slow, deliberative and logical. It helps you clear through the rapid, automatic and subconscious default settings that often guide us and pushes us further to get at well thought out decisions.
By both concentrating and engaging in a deeper level of thought, you dramatically increase the prospects of making good decisions.
6. QUESTIONS FOR THE THREE P’S
The three P’s are: possibilities, probabilities and priorities. These three are sequentially linked. Apply different questions to the different categories. Certain questions generate possibilities. Other questions sharpen the team’s ability to assess the probable outcome of potential decisions. The third set of questions help empower team members to prioritize. While Socrates engaged in philosophical dialogues over long periods of time, you have a venture to run. And that means taking action. Learn to apply different questions to the three P’s; it will help advance your endeavor.
7. KNOW THYSELF
Having a Socratic culture is great. It also means everyone should embrace the Socratic ideal to “Know Thyself.”
Before tossing questions in every direction, make sure to ask you self questions first. Get great at thinking through issues. This way you can ask quality questions. It also shows respect to everyone on the team. It demonstrates that you value their time, input and energy because you cared enough to think through the issue at hand prior to enlisting them in a specific quest.
Socratic cultures are intense, engaging and driven. They are on a quest to create the best possible outcomes. They are willing to dig deep, take decisions and iterate ever better decisions through the ongoing Socratic Method. So tomorrow, when you wake up, ask yourself which great questions you will bring to your tribe that will advance your mission.