This past week, we had an enjoyable session with Professor Mikinari Higano on active learning. You might surmise from the title of this post that his class focused on questions.
Professor Higano is the founder and director of the Business Leadership Program at Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan. I love that when he’s not focused on the leadership art of asking questions he plays tennis, cooks Italian food, and travels around Europe.
I’ve always been a pretty big fan of questions. A previous version of myself liked to say things like, “questions are more important than answers.” And with all the conversation these days about the importance of questions, I’ve needed to re-examine how I view, think about, and formulate questions.
The exercise we went through with Professor Higano was smack in the middle of where the simple meets the complex. Basically, think of a question. A problematic question, that is. I urge you to try based on the same criteria we were given:
(1) It must directly affect you (e.g., problems that bother your friend only, no matter how serious they may be, are not appropriate for our purpose);
(2) You must be seeking a solution to the problem immediately (e.g., if you are looking to find a solution over a span of a year or longer, that problem wouldn’t be appropriate);
(3) You must feel comfortable sharing and discussing the problem with the other members (e.g., “having a hard time to find a good date” may be a serious problem and you might be seeking an immediate solution, but if you feel uncomfortable discussing such a topic with peers and teachers, that’s not appropriate);
(4) The problem’s solution must be within a reasonable reach; that is, the problem must not be too grandiose or big in scale (e.g., don’t say you’re looking for a solution to change a country or other similarly great problems of the world);
(5) At the same time, the problem must be complex enough so that you do not see an obvious solution (e.g., problems such as “I’m having a hard time to get out of the bed in the morning” or “I always find myself procrastinating while I’m at work” have obvious solutions and therefore, they are not appropriate); and
(6) Do not try to come up with “interesting” or “funny” problems. In fact, humorous problems discussing which makes it hard for the seminar attendants to keep straight faces have nothing but negative effects on the class.
Given the array of conditions noted above, you might as well wonder what problem is appropriate; nonetheless, most if not all people who are living serious lives do have lots of problems that are highly appropriate to bring. Such problems involve a number of stakeholders with various, maybe mutually contradictory interests (e.g., a solution may satisfy Person A, but it will upset Person B, etc.), and therefore, you are struggling to disentangle the problem and find the best solution.
If any of you are not sure if the problem you’re going to bring is proper or not, even after you read carefully my instructions and check your problem, you are welcome to ask me. It is important because the performance of the sessions, especially in the earlier phases, is affected by the properness of the problem.
I will likely share with you the question I chose in a future post, but, for the moment, really, take a moment and think about yours.
When we arrived in class, armed with our questions, only two of us actually had the chance to participate this time around. Going through the process, led by our table’s emerging expert facilitators, Anusha and Promotosh, we spent 50 minutes each to dissect the problem of two classmates.
I had two main takeaways:
The first – while I love asking questions, it can be hard to only ask questions in response to anything anyone says. Now, the problem presenters (as they were called) could share insight with us based on the questions we asked them, but the rest of us participants were required to use questions to move the discussion along.
And you know what? There was an interesting energy around the discussion that I had not quite considered before. Many people like to tell it how it is: to share their knowledge, their perspective, to give advice. And what if we did all that, by communicating this knowledge, perspective, or advice via a question?
The second – the first problem presenter lamented her lack of participation. She found it challenging to speak up, to ask questions, to be an active part of conversations, especially in larger groups. And she wanted to explore why.
Now, in the second session, I think her question was probably the most important question of the entire 50 minute discussion. While I can’t remember the exact question now, I do remember how I felt when she asked and the conversation shifted.
And now that we have the takeaways, where is the action involved?
1 – next time you are in a conversation, what would it be like to reformulate a follow-up comment into a follow-up question?
2 – in a small to larger group setting, by always keeping your questions inside, might you be depriving others the opportunity of hearing a conversation-altering question?
In searching images based on “answer a questions with a question”, I didn’t come up with much that struck me on Google images. Further exploring through a “question design” query, I made my way to something designed by Brandon Kauffman here on logogala.com. It looks like Brandon has more of his updated work on his self-addressed site here.