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Don’t Bring Me Answers, Bring Me More Questions!

Don’t Bring Me Answers, Bring Me More Questions!
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    Don’t depend on answers in uncertain times

    We live in a world that seems endlessly hungry for answers: preferably quick, unambiguous, definitive, once-and-for-all, simple answers. We want to be told what to do, how to solve our problems, how to live our lives to best effect. At work, bosses grind out the old chestnut, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Politicians running for office are expected to come up with the answers to the nation’s greatest difficulties, long before they ever get to the elected position that would allow them to see any of the available, detailed information.

    In our personal lives as well, we want nice, simple recipes for coping. Hence the huge popularity of articles with titles like: “Five simple ways to . . .” or “How to deal with . . . once and for all.”

    But what if I suggested that answers aren’t all they’re expected to be; and that what you need most of all are more questions, even if — especially if — you have no idea how to answer them?

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    Answers too easily prove wrong

    The trouble with answers is that they are quite often wrong: anywhere from totally, hopelessly wrong to just far enough off the right track to produce unexpected future problems. Questions are rarely wrong enough to be useless. Even the wrong questions can lead to unexpected but useful insights. The right question is worth much more than the right answer, since nearly every answer applies only in certain given circumstances, whereas a good question is a good question almost anywhere.

    Science used to be based rigorously on questions, not answers. Every ‘answer’ was judged to be no more than provisional — a theory only — waiting to be disproved by someone with better techniques, more data or greater insight. No area of scientific knowledge was out-of-bounds to questioners; however firmly, or for however long, its theories had been accepted. Sir Isaac Newton supplied the final answer to how the universe worked, until new techniques came along, Einstein arrived, and more than two centuries of scientific ‘knowledge’ was overturned. Now science too is pushed, pressurized and exhorted to produce definite answers, so that the conclusions of research are instantly announced as fact by the media — only to be overturned later by new ‘facts’.

    Answers represent dead ends

    The more definitive and widely accepted the ‘answer’, the more it prevents people from seeing how it will turn out to be wrong. Once you think you know, for a fact, that things work in a particular way — or the answer to problem ‘a’ is always technique ‘b’ — there’s no need to explore any further. Of course, over time, the world changes, but almost nobody looks to see if that affects what they already know for sure — until the unthinkable happens and our nice, simple answers stop working.

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    The world of business is especially prone to relying on widely accepted ‘right’ answers — until they aren’t answers any more. Only then do people run around in a panic trying to find some other way. And when they find one, what do they do? You’ve got it. They quickly stop looking further. Having so many problems to deal with, they gratefully shelve that one as ‘solved’ and forget about it. As one of the guest authors on my Slow Leadership blog explained recently, they play ‘Whack-a-mole Management.’ A problem shows its head; they whack it with some suitable mallet, forget it, and look around to see where the next one will pop up.

    Answers kill creativity

    Creativity is only needed when you don’t know the best way to do something — or suspect the accepted answer isn’t as good as everyone else seems to think. If you truly believe that there is one, right answer to a problem and you already know what it is, what is there to be creative about?

    Questions, of course, are exactly the opposite. They are the life-blood of all creativity. One of the main differences between naturally creative people and the rest is that the creative types are never satisfied with whatever answers they have. They distrust them on principle. Give them an answer and they get cranky and try to prove it isn’t an answer at all. Give them a question, and they’re as happy as a child playing in a sand pit. First they create this answer, only to trample it down and use the ‘sand’ to build another one. What annoys ‘practical’ people about creative types is that they never stop asking questions. What drives creative people wild about ‘practical’ types is that they rarely start.

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    Don’t build your life around what you think you already know

    What takes this topic out of the realm of philosophy and into everyday life is the understanding that any life built around a set of supposedly firm, known answers is like a huge tree in the path of a hurricane. It looks wonderfully solid and unshakeable, but when the winds get wild enough, they are going to snap it into matchwood. With no capacity to bend or change under the onslaught, it either survives until the next attack — perhaps badly damaged — or is destroyed. All it can do is resist and hope for the best.

    People who know the answers in advance — or believe they do — suffer the same fate. They resist or ignore changing circumstances until something comes along that is stronger than they are. Then their carefully constructed, stable lives are ripped up and ruined. With no other options, and little practice in finding any, they are often damaged beyond repair.

    In contrast, the small bushes and saplings bend and twist. Some are uprooted and some are damaged, but most make it through, despite being far, far weaker than the great tree now lying dead and in ruins. Buildings designed to flex can survive earthquakes. Rigid ones collapse.

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    A life is better built around questions

    When you build your life and career around questions, you’re always looking to see how you can find better ways of dealing with whatever events throw at you. Since you don’t assume you already know all the answers, you keep exploring — often finding along the way all kinds of unexpected and wonderful treasures you didn’t know were there. Change is easy and natural. If parts of your life get blown apart, your creativity can quickly get to work to make good the damage. Even in bad times, you probably won’t just survive; you’ll find life’s storms have opened up pathways that weren’t open to you before.

    Here’s one recipe for becoming stronger, wiser and much more able to survive bad times:

    1. Don’t seek to have all the answers; seek out more questions, even if they seem to threaten what you think you know.
    2. Always distrust what answers you have now; they’re probably less firm that they appear to be.
    3. Don’t accept others’ answers, however loudly they parade them as incontrovertible facts; almost nothing out there is as secure as that.
    4. Above all, don’t trot out neat, second-hand solutions. Stick to messy, first-hand problems, ask questions continually and find your own way forward.

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    Last Updated on December 5, 2018

    How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

    How to Lead a Team More Effectively and Be a True Leader at Work

    Being an efficient manager and a charismatic boss at the same time can seem like an impossible task. Is there a way to deliver the desired results for your business while remaining liked and respected by your staff?

    We all know bad examples of team leaders who seem to fail at one aspect or the other, or even at both. But we’ve also heard of awesome managers who seem to juggle both things well enough.

    How do they do it?

    By sticking to few proven ways that let them maintain a positive karma score while remaining efficient. In this article, we’ll guide you through 11 smart management tips on how to lead a team and become something more than a boss – a leader.

    1. Find a Management Strategy and Stick to It

    There’s nothing worse than a boss that keeps changing his or her opinions and assignments depending on their mood or a book they read this week. Chaotic decisions increase the insecurity and frustration of your team, so you better find your strategy and stick to it.

    If you do find some new methods you want your staff to follow, make sure they don’t contradict the general direction you are taking. Otherwise, you risk making your team take one step forward and two steps back.

    2. Set Goals​ and Track Progress in Reaching Them

    Set individual and collective goals​ for your team and track the progress in reaching them. This might sound obvious at first, but too often we find ourselves stuck between daily customer requests and monthly reports, and the bigger goal or vision seems to fade away.

    According to Elon Musk (and many other successful CEOs around the Globe), it’s crucial to have a clear and motivating aim to where the company is heading. His aim for the space transportation company SpaceX is “to make humankind a multi-planetary species”.[1] That’s a huge goal but the company is slowly moving closer to it by reaching smaller steps and milestones, like launching self-landing rockets. This is also a very inspiring and meaningful goal that helps employees endure the company’s extremely high expectations and 60 to 70-hour work weeks.[2]

    Even if your goals are not as grand, setting and reaching milestones will give you a clear insight into the team’s overall efficiency and daily progress. With time, you will be able to see the weak spots and improve your results.​

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    3. Demand Learning from Your Team

    CEO of print on demand startup Printful, Davis Siksnans, believes that:[3]

    “The key for a company going through rapid growth is to empower your employees’ self-development.”

    His company with 500 employees spanning two continents demands a culture of learning and provides all the tools necessary to do it.

    Their idea is –  as the company scales, people have to grow in their positions too, which means that they have to be constantly learning. Siksnans says:

    “We try to hire people for what they might become, but they need to have that drive.“

    Alternatively, you can provide educational courses for your employees or invite informal lecturers to educate and inspire your team. You can also encourage peer-to-peer learning by asking employees to teach their particular experience or skill to co-workers.

    4. Invest in a Pleasant Work Environment

    Studies show that a well-designed office environment can increase your team’s overall performance by as much as 20%. You’ll be surprised to see that even very small interior tweaks that don’t require major investments can improve your workers’ performance.

    Some ideas for a more productive and pleasing work environment:

    • Invest in modern furniture – offer ergonomic chairs, standing desks, and individually arranged workplaces​.
    • Start an in-house library – reading for pleasure just 30 minutes a day is proven to be enough to become more effective at work,[4] improve focus, and deal with problems like depression and anxiety.​
    • Play jazzy office music – rhythmic background music will help workers feel more energetic and enthusiastic while doing everyday tasks.​
    • Set up entertainment or break rooms – being able to relax and have fun at work creates a strong commitment, helps employees relax and clear their minds, and boosts productivity.​
    • Bring in uplifting office decor – it’s been found that art in the workplace can boost productivity,[5] lower stress, and even encourage employees to innovate.​
    • Decorate the office with live plants for freshness and a welcoming feel. Furthermore, plants are found to ensure better air quality and increase workers’ productivity by 15%.[6]

    5. Be Kind and Sincere to Your Team

    Did you know that 50% of employees quit because they dislike working with their manager?[7] In fact, most times when people leave their jobs they actually leave their managers. Being friendly and sincere may not be enough to be a successful manager, but it’s a big part of it.

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    Some ways to show you appreciate and care for your staff:

    • Celebrate the progress and achievements of your employees. And don’t be shy to simply say thanks.​
    • Talk to your employees regularly and really listen to what they have to say. Address their concerns, help them reach their goals and do your best to improve their work and daily life.
    • If you’re having a bad day, don’t pour out your stress and anger on the staff. Instead, try to recharge yourself by appreciating the achievements of your team and setting the next goals.
    • Try not to overload your team with work. Every company has rush periods when it’s okay to have more work than usual. But remember that people cannot work under prolonged pressure and stress.
    • Don’t be selfish – it can be very demotivating to see that the manager only focuses on what you can do for him and doesn’t care about your goals and well-being.​ As the CEO of Xerox Anne M. Mulcahy put it,[8]

      “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person — not just an employee — are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled.”

    Whenever you are having doubts about your kind attitude, remember – satisfied employees are productive employees which lead to satisfied customers and eventually – success for your company.

    6. Offer Flexible Work Hours

    The traditional Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job is beginning to slip away. Increasingly more people are working remotely or having flexible work hours, and we can expect this trend to continue. To adapt to these changing habits and remain competitive in the labor market, more employers are offering the chance to choose your own work hours, work from home or even from another city or country.

    Offering flexible hours is a powerful way to inspire your existing staff and give them intrinsic motivation. Why not let your employees choose their preferred working hours while keeping the 8-hour day? For example, night owls are unhappy and unproductive if they have to come to work before 10 AM, while others might prefer to start at 7 and finish earlier.

    You can go even farther and hire remote workers – this way you’ll be able to recruit from a global talent pool and even save money on office expenses like desks, stationery, electricity, etc.[9]

    7. Track Your Team’s Productive Time

    Not monitoring your employees’ progress and efficiency can result in poor performance and slacking. Instead of letting things go with the flow, you should consider installing time-tracking software on your employees’ computers and see who’s doing great and who might need a productivity boost.

    But don’t get it wrong – there’s no need to become big brother and watch every step your employees take. If you use the time-tracker as a spying tool, you will only see increasing suspicion and insecurity around you, and your employees’ happiness levels will drop.

    On the contrary, choose software that allows employees to mark private time that won’t be tracked. In addition, consider these time-management tactics:

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    • Allow flexible work hours. (see Tip No 6)
    • Encourage breaks – studies show that employees who take regular breaks are more productive than those who don’t.[10]
    • Enable remote work to show your employees that you trust them and that they can work from home or even from another country (if they can maintain sufficient productivity).
    • Consider offering bonuses to your most productive employees (those who show productivity levels above 90 or 95%).

    8. Use Only Constructive Criticism

    Constructive criticism means offering valid and rational opinions about the work of others, involving both positive comments and remarks about what should be improved. Constructive criticism is usually expressed in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one.

    When you evaluate your team’s work, give them feedback that’s helpful, specific, and sincere. Don’t be shy to praise, but also be direct and even strict when necessary.

    9. Don’t Give Special Treatment to Yourself

    The boss’s actions are – directly or indirectly – observed by your team. This means that your employees look up to you and often mimic your attitude towards your work and the company – especially if your actions don’t show commitment. Nobody wants to work for a leader who doesn’t go all in or inspire motivation.

    What you should do is lead by example. If you expect your employees to arrive at work on time and work 8 hours, do the same yourself. If you want them to show initiative, show it yourself and encourage others to do the same.

    Jeff Weiner is the CEO of LinkedIn – a company of 3,000 employees that consistently ranks as one of the best workplaces with a 92 percent employee-approval rating.[11] Weiner’s workdays are reported to be equally long or even longer than those of his employees, allowing him to stay “extremely credible as a leader.”

    10. Empower Your Employees

    Here’s a common mistake many managers make:

    They don’t motivate their staff and assume they simply love to work for their company.​ Such belief can result in painful losses for the company – especially these days when many companies are in desperate need of a reliable workforce.

    Instead of directly thinking about bonuses and perks, consider intrinsic motivation. For example, enable flat organization in your team and listen to your employees’ ideas when they come up with opinions and suggestions. Your company might actually benefit a great deal from the feedback, and the unique ideas employees come up with.

    You can also start an initiative where employees can freely share or pitch their business ideas to you or the founders of the company. If the idea is accepted by the management, the project can be developed, and the employee can have equity options.

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    If people feel they have an impact in the company, they become more motivated, engaged and interested in the company’s growth.

    11. Nurture Your Company Culture

    Company culture is the personality of a company that defines the overall work environment and relationships between teammates. It also includes company mission, values, ethics, and goals.

    Some examples of company cultures are the Horizontal corporate culture (collaborative and equal; popular among startups and free-spirited businesses) and Conventional corporate culture (a more risk-averse and hierarchy-based approach common in traditional companies).

    However, you don’t have to stick to pre-existing boxes when creating your corporate culture. You might think of your team as a family, a sports team, or even a hippie camp if it fits your business and purpose. But keep in mind that by the time a company’s size reaches 20 employees, the company culture is set,[12] and any changes will need to be implemented in smaller teams.

    Whichever personality you choose for your company, make sure to live by it and nurture it. Some things that might help:

    Team building events, relevant books in your office library and proper on-boarding for the new employees to get everyone on the same page from the very beginning.

    Be a Leader, Not a Boss

    Using the words of Printful’s CEO Davis Siksnans, the ultimate goal is to “Hire great people who don’t have to be managed.”

    However, when you do need to demonstrate some initiative and control, act as a leader rather than as a boss.

    In other words, don’t be afraid to show the personality behind your role. And keep these 11 tips close to your heart.

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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