The best solution is to ask a better question

Nick Davis
Feb 28 · 4 min read

Welcome to our black-and-white world.

We come from the land of the consultancy. A land where the promise of solutions reigns supreme. Where a brief presents a problem to be solved and a process is built around coming up with the goods. It’s a black and white, binary kind of world.

It’s also a world that can create a comfort zone for consultants. A brief is a tight, neatly defined space to work within. It usually comes from a source who you presume has good reason to present the problem as articulated. So, if you come up with a ‘good’ solution, you’ve done a good job. Problem solved.

It’s understandable that there’s reverence for the expert consultants; the problem-solving geniuses; the super smart people who can articulate or create the solutions. Fair dues to those who deliver.

So, why has problem-solving lost its lustre?

When we started Everyhow one of the first things we decided was that we wouldn’t be a problem solver. We didn’t want to be an expert consultancy or a group of problem-solving geniuses.

Why? Well, in our experience on both sides of the consultancy/client fence, we’d seen some flaws in the consultancy-side ‘problem solver’ proposition, and also in the client-side M.O. of setting ‘problems to be solved’. Roughly, they were these:

  1. The world moves too fast for solutions. Solutions denote fixed responses to fixed tasks. This doesn’t work any more. As fast as you can solve a problem, a new one will emerge that supersedes the old.
  2. A consultancy rarely has all the answers. Their ability to develop the right solution is dependent on a million oscillating factors; some of these may be in their control (talent, methodology, experience) and some may be out of their control (access to the right information and insight, acute understanding of business conditions, wide-ranging stakeholder interests).
  3. Bringing in problem-solvers is a waste of resource. There is a heavy outsourcing rhythm within many large organisations. This reliance on external help not only burns through cash resources, it also neglects an organisation’s human resources. Why outsource the things that matter most? Why miss the opportunity to utilise and up-skill your workforce?
  4. The language of ‘problems’ is laced with negativity. Spending your days dwelling on problems informs a distinctly cup-half-empty outlook. If organisational life is all about dealing with ‘problems’, then we’d better play some very optimistic music in the elevators to keep people’s spirits up.
  5. We’re all running around solving problems but are we asking the right questions?

This last point is the nail hit on the head. Is that brief you’re holding asking the right question? What are we really trying to explore? How can we stimulate the best possible response to the scenario we find ourselves in?

Is there a better question to be asked?

The better question is one that cuts to what’s most important. This is articulated eloquently by Decision Scientists Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas here: “In order to make the right decisions, people need to start asking the questions that really matter.”

The better question is one that encourages the broadest possible exploration in response, that can push you to unthink things you’ve always thought. It should be, in the words of Warren Berger (author of the excellent ‘A More Beautiful Question’), “ambitious” and “catalytic”. It should should start with ‘why’, rather than ‘what’ or ‘how’ (you can follow up with those once you’ve explored the ‘why’).

The better question is one that should be strategically engineered, finely crafted and articulated with precision. As Dan Moulthrop says in his great TED talk on the art of asking questions, “words matter”.

If we’re not solving problems, what are we doing with these questions?

With big, ambitious, expansive questions, we’re not fixing things that are broken, faulty or causing trouble. We’re looking up and out. We’re moving into a cup-half-full world.

We prefer the contextualisation and language of ‘challenges’. A challenge can be about a problem you’re faced with, but it can also be about a dream you want to realise. Or a dream you haven’t had yet but need to work your way toward.

Challenges don’t get solved. Through the right questions being asked, they get identified, articulated, unpacked and explored. They get poked, prodded and turned upside down. They get you scared but they also get you excited. They take you beyond the known to the unknown.

Welcome to the unknown. What are your questions?

Everyhow

We’re a consultancy driven solely and fiercely by the principle of collaboration. We gather leaders, thinkers and do-ers to work through big challenges, creating the conditions for people to think critically and creatively, together. We call this collaborative design.

Nick Davis

Written by

Co-Founder at Everyhow — a co-design company. Experienced in questions of business vision, customer value, brand strategy and organisational design.

Everyhow

Everyhow

We’re a consultancy driven solely and fiercely by the principle of collaboration. We gather leaders, thinkers and do-ers to work through big challenges, creating the conditions for people to think critically and creatively, together. We call this collaborative design.

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