This post is part of the working draft of the DriverlessCrocodile Toolkit (read more here). I’d love comments, links to resources related to the theme, and original contributions.
Would they miss you? Why?
This question works for examining your personal values, and it’s a great pivot for thinking about the values of your organisation too.
What do you hope people will remember you and your team for?
What will people notice first? What will they miss when you’re gone?
How have you made things better?
Which of your shortcomings will make things worse if you’re not careful?
What will make the effort of running this project, of building this organisation worth it? If you didn’t have to earn a living, would you still do this? Why?
Be Your Own Guru
The next time you want to ask someone a question, first ask yourself these two questions:
- Why is this important to me?
- What am I going to do with the answer?
If you don’t have satisfying answers to those to questions, don’t ask.
If you do have satisfying answers, a third question is:
- Why aren’t I working out my own answer to this question?
- What smaller questions can I ask to help answer this big one?
It’s great to use subject experts, mentors and gurus to add to your stock of knowledge and contribute to a work in progress.
But often we use them to save us the work of thinking for ourselves, or worse, because we don’t really intend to do anything with their answers.
You asked the question…
- Are you going to listen to the answer?
- What are you prepared to change if the it’s not what you’re expecting?
- How are you going to put the answer to work?
If you’re not ready to do any of these things, it’s probably better not to ask until you are.
A questions about questions:
Who is it for?
Always, our questions are self motivated:
- We’re looking for answers.
- We just want to know.
- The answer will help us in some way.
We also ask questions for other people:
- We ask on behalf of others who can’t or won’t ask – because we want their question to be heard by others, or because we want them to have an answer they need.
- We want an answer so that we can make something better for someone else.
- We ask to show the person we’re asking that we’re engaged.
- We ask to give the person we’re asking the chance to talk about something that’s important to them.
- We ask to invite the person we’re asking to go in a new direction or consider something more deeply.
These are all fine reasons. What we need to watch out for are the questions we ask for other reasons:
- We ask to get attention, so that we look smart to the other people in the room.
- We ask to make the person we’re talking to look small, or foolish, or unprepared.
- We ask to score points in private arguments.
- We don’t really ask at all – we take the opportunity of asking a question to make our own point to the room.
- We ask to avoid thinking things through for ourselves.
Not all of these are bad all the time – there’s a time and a place for pointing out the flaws in another person’s thinking. But we’ll rarely win friends or influence by attention seeking or point scoring, and we get the best value of all when we do the harder work of answering our own questions.
Here’s a set of quickfire questions you might enjoy answering:
- Introduce yourself: who are you, what do you do, and why is it important?
- What’s your most valuable skill?
- Describe a tool, technique or practice that makes a difference to your work.
- What advice do you most need to hear?
- Suggest an endearing and humorous question for question number five – and answer it.
One last thing
Suggest one or two people you know whose answers you’d like to read, and who you think would enjoy answering.
Next time you read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a program that you like – why don’t you get in touch with whoever made it?
Not just the person who was in it – the ones we normally notice – but the people who made it too. Drop them an email, or even that hand written note that you always think about but never get around to.
Why did you like it? Is there something you had a (generous, non-snarky) question about, or something (of genuine potential interest to them) that you can share?
Try it – make it a light touch. It feels funny at first but gets ever-easier. They’re a person like you, and they’ll probably reply, which will probably be fun.*
*You have permission to stop after twenty unreplied-to contact attempts.**
** To different people.
This is a ‘spec for a spec’ pulling together some threads from This is Marketing (‘The Simple Marketing Promise’, ‘Marketing in five steps’ and ‘Simple Marketing Worksheet’) and this page.
1. Audience: Who do I seek to serve?
What is the world view of the audience you’re seeking to reach?
My product is for people who believe…
I will focus on people who want…
What are they afraid of?
2. Purpose: What change do I seek to make?
What change are you seeking to make?
What story will you tell? Is it true?
I promise that engaging with what I make will help you…
How will it change their status?
3. Mechanism and Ecosystem: How will it work?
How will people hear about it?
What happens when people use it?
How will they tell others?
Where’s the network effect?
Where does the money come from? Where does it go?
What asset are you building?
4. Impact: How will we know if it’s working?
Are you proud of it?
What change do you hope to see?
Where do we go next?
Here’s the draft of six questions for first interviews on the DC podcast – let me know what you think. Spec for the podcast (which should have come first) coming soon!)
- Who are you, what do you do, and why do you think it’s important?
- How did your organisation or project start, and how has it changed?
- Can you share an important lesson that you’ve picked up along the way, and how you learnt it?
- Apart from that – is there a book, resource or author you’d particularly recommend?
- What’s next, and what hard-to-find resources or partners will you be looking for?
- What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for change, and is in the early stages of starting a project or organisation?
Backup / candidate questions:
a. What piece of advice to you think you most need to hear?
b. Can you tell me about a person who’s influenced you in a way that helped you to do your work better?
c. Are there any values, commitments or practices that you think are important in running an organisation but are often overlooked?