Tag Archives: asking the right questions

Stop and Think

By, Lou Quinto
Executive Coach and Speaker

When you have a problem to solve or decision to make do you take the time to Stop and Think?

As simple as it sounds, most people don’t take the time to Stop and Think about the problem they are trying to tackle or the decision they are trying to make and end up wasting a lot of time. The excuses people make include:

“I already know what the cause of the problem is, or I have a good Idea which choice I should make.”

• “I don’t have time! If I stopped to think about every problem or decision I have I would never solve any of them.”

• “I never consciously thought about it!”

Stop and Think will help make you more efficient in your problem-solving and decision-making and you will realize many benefits. Among them are:

• It will clear your head from the cacophony of daily business noise to focus on the specific situation needing to be addressed.

• It allows your brain to question what your “gut” may be telling you is the best course of action and prevent you from making a snap decision – getting you to use facts over your opinions.

• It is a wise investment of your time. People attribute Ben Franklin with the quote, “Haste, makes waste.” Four or five minutes taken on the front end will save you hours of rework repairing a snap decision that was bad or the incorrect solution to a problem.

• It minimizes your chances of falling into the time-wasting syndrome of “analysis paralysis” because you will take the time to define a list of that data you determine is necessary to arrive at the best outcome and identify the specific sources from which that data will be gathered.

• Finally, when working with others, consider the purpose of Stop and Think similar to a huddle in football before a play. When the huddle breaks the players go to the line knowing what their individual responsibilities are to successfully execute the play called by the coach.

Stop and Think is a critical thinking process. Characteristic of all critical thinking processes there is a list of logical tasks defined by a series of questions you should ask yourself. The answers to those questions help you to formulate your game-plan for tackling your situation. Here is a look at some of the questions you must answer and tasks you must accomplish before running out onto the problem solving and decision-making field.

1. Have you created a clear description of your problem, decision or goal? John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform, said, “A problem well-defined, is a problem half solved.” What he was referring to is that when you take the time up-front to develop a concise problem or decision statement it helps you to eliminate areas you should avoid because those areas have nothing to do with your current challenge. I.T. professionals consider this as avoiding “scope creep.” That’s where your workload expands into doing work not directly associated with your primary task or wasting time to gather information which – in the end – proves to be irrelevant.

2. How does this relate to my goal, objective or mission? Answering this question will allow you and your team to tie the successful resolve directly to your overall purpose. When you do this, you will recognize the level of importance that this decision of solution has to the overall progress of your project or job.

3. What is the urgency and risk associated with this dilemma? Prioritizing tasks is an important concept in managing one’s time and project plan. By identifying the issue’s urgency and risk you will be able to balance this problem or decision among the many other things you need to accomplish.

4. How much time do you believe will be needed to solve this problem or make this decision? Everyone works well when deadlines are established and known by all. Create that deadline. If not, you will find yourself viewing procrastination as an option. It shouldn’t be!

5. Define your criteria in advance? Establishing criteria in advance allows you to pinpoint the specific information you will need to gather which prevents you from drowning in a sea of information and wasting time in that dreadful time waste known as analysis paralysis. Your criteria will also help you frame up your problem or decision and identify the source where that information can be obtained.

So, with your next problem or decision resist the urge to jump in with both feet. Stand at the edge – Stop and Think – and carefully map-out the game plan you will follow with an accurate and concise assessment. You will save a lot of time and frustration.
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Lou Quinto has been working with companies and their associates internationally for over the past 25 years primarily in the area of critical thinking and communication skills. He is a Master Coach and Keynote Speaker for Action Management Associates in Plano, TX and a Senior Consultant on the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness team for Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, OK. You can read more of his insights on this blog, Metacognition or you can contact him at louquinto@gmail.com. Originally from New Jersey, today Lou resides in Indianapolis, IN.

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Filed under Critical Thinking Tools, Decision Making, Problem Solving, Strategic Thinking

Don’t Ask the Wrong Questions When Creating Strategy

In 2000, Robert Nardelli was hired to run Home Depot. By 2006 he had nearly doubled sales, cut costs, improved process, increased efficiency and doubled profits. In 2007, the board of directors released Nardelli. Why? He focused on the wrong question. According to Ric Merrifield in his book Rethink, Nardelli fell into the trap of asking the “how” questions when he really needed to be addressing the “what” questions.

While the “hows” will narrow your focus (and there is a time for narrowed focus), focusing on the “whats” will broaden your understanding of the organization and what makes it successful. The “whats” ensure you are looking at the operation in its entirety and focusing efforts on the most desired outcomes. Merrifield offers a five-step approach for using the “whats” to improve performance:

1. Identify the “Whats” that are truly valuable
2. Know What you are (and aren’t) good at
3. Make (and break) connections
4. Understand what can (and can’t) be predicted
5. Unravel (and follow) the rules

In 1999, Proctor & Gamble Company (P&G) focused on the “whats” and decided to change their process for product innovation and began gathering ideas from outside inventors. Within five years, P&G doubled their success rate of new product innovations sparking significant sales and earnings improvements.

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Action Management and Associates

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You Know What Happens When We Assume

If you’re looking for signs of a pending Zombie Apocalypse, look no further than your nearest emergency room. Go to an ER at 2:00 a.m. and you will see what looks like a callout for zombie extras. Everywhere you turn you see bleary-eyed souls stumbling around a sea of people, mentally exhausted humans searching for help, or others half-asleep carrying dangerous blades.

And those are just the doctors!

At any hour of any day in any hospital in the United States, there is a chance you will be treated by a resident who has been working thirty hours without any sleep. It’s a chilling thought, but this practice is a common rite of initiation for physicians. In an effort to improve patient care and reduce harmful errors, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education changed the maximum shift length for interns from 30 hours to 16 in 2011. It seems like common sense. No one wants a sleep-deprived resident making life or death decisions. You don’t need to be smarter than a fifth grader to come to that conclusion.

Two recent studies at Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan Medical School tracked the results of this implemented shift change. The findings were shocking. The shorter shifts actually did more harm than good. The reduced hours did not improve doctors’ rates of depression or increase the number of hours they slept. What’s more, harmful medical errors increased by 15-20%. Some say this is likely due to the fact that the interns’ workloads didn’t decrease, and the number of patient hand-offs, where many errors occur, increased significantly.

While the original assumptions were false, we can consider the research a success. Imagine the lives that could have been lost had hospitals not tested the assumptions behind such a “common sense” solution.

Which begs the question: How often do we make changes or implement new processes in our organizations based on faulty assumptions? How often do we let majority opinion make the decision for us? How often do we make decisions based on our experience, even when that experience may not be applicable to the given situation? It happens far more frequently than we want to admit. Sure, you will have your fair share of successes by doing these things. But you also leave your organization open to a lot of costly risk and rework.

The key to success is in asking the right questions. As you approach your next big organizational initiative, ask the following questions to minimize your risk and improve your chance of success.

1. What assumptions are we making?
2. How can we test these assumptions?
3. Where can we find evidence to contradict our majority opinion?
4. Who else will be responsible for the success of this initiative, and how can we obtain their insights?
5. What alternative conclusions exist?

Organizations benefit greatly from asking contrary questions in advance to a big implementation. Of course, it takes time, but the knowledge gained from the experience prevents costly rework and results in more comprehensive solutions.
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Action Management and Associates

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