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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 March 25, 2020

    How to Set Ambitious Career Goals (With Examples)

    How to Set Ambitious Career Goals (With Examples)

    Taking your work to the next level means setting and keeping career goals. A career goal is a targeted objective that explains what you want your ultimate profession to be.

    Defining career goals is a critical step to achieving success. You need to know where you’re going in order to get there. Knowing what your career goals are isn’t just important for you–it’s important for potential employers too. The relationship between an employer and an employee works best when your goals for the future and their goals align. Saying, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll do anything,” makes you seem indecisive, and opens you up to taking on ill-fitting tasks that won’t lead you to your dream life.

    Career goal templates’ one-size-fits-all approach won’t consider your unique goals and experiences. They won’t help you stand out, and they may not reflect your full potential.

    In this article, I’ll help you to define your career goals with SMART goal framework, and will provide you with a list of examples goals for work and career.

    How to Define Your Career Goal with SMART

    Instead of relying on a generalized framework to explain your vision, use a tried-and-true goal-setting model. SMART is an acronym for “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic with Timelines.”[1] The SMART framework demystifies goals by breaking them into smaller steps.

    Helpful hints when setting SMART career goals:

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    • Start with short-term goals first. Work on your short-term goals, and then progress the long-term interests.[2] Short-term goals are those things which take 1-3 years to complete. Long-term goals take 3-5 years to do. As you succeed in your short-term goals, that success should feed into accomplishing your long-term goals.
    • Be specific, but don’t overdo it. You need to define your career goals, but if you make them too specific, then they become unattainable. Instead of saying, “I want to be the next CEO of Apple, where I’ll create a billion-dollar product,” try something like, “My goal is to be the CEO of a successful company.”
    • Get clear on how you’re going to reach your goals. You should be able to explain the actions you’ll take to advance your career. If you can’t explain the steps, then you need to break your goal down into more manageable chunks.
    • Don’t be self-centered. Your work should not only help you advance, but it should also support the goals of your employer. If your goals differ too much, then it might be a sign that the job you’ve taken isn’t a good fit.

    If you want to learn more about setting SMART Goals, watch the video below to learn how you can set SMART career goals.

    After you’re clear on how to set SMART goals, you can use this framework to tackle other aspects of your work. For instance, you might set SMART goals to improve your performance review, look for a new job, or shift your focus to a different career.

    We’ll cover examples of ways to use SMART goals to meet short-term career goals in the next section.

    Why You Need an Individual Development Plan

    Setting goals is one part of the larger formula for success. You may know what you want to do, but you also have to figure out what skills you have, what you lack, and where your greatest strengths and weaknesses are.

    One of the best ways to understand your capabilities is by using the Science Careers Individual Development Plan skills assessment. It’s free, and all you need to do is register an account and take a few assessments.

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    These assessments will help you determine if your career goals are realistic. You’ll come away with a better understanding of your unique talents and skill-sets. You may decide to change some of your career goals or alter your timeline based on what you learn.

    40 Examples of Goals for Work & Career

    All this talk of goal-setting and self-assessment may sound great in theory, but perhaps you need some inspiration to figure out what your goals should be.

    For Changing a Job

    1. Attend more networking events and make new contacts.
    2. Achieve a promotion to __________ position.
    3. Get a raise.
    4. Plan and take a vacation this year.
    5. Agree to take on new responsibilities.
    6. Develop meaningful relationships with your coworkers and clients.
    7. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.
    8. Learn how to say, “No,” when you are asked to take on too much.
    9. Delegate tasks that you no longer need to be responsible for.
    10. Strive to be in a leadership role in __ number of years.

    For Switching Career Path

    1. Pick up and learn a new skill.
    2. Find a mentor.
    3. Become a volunteer in the field that interests you.
    4. Commit to getting training or going back to school.
    5. Read the most recent books related to your field.
    6. Decide whether you are happy with your work-life balance and make changes if necessary. [3]
    7. Plan what steps you need to take to change careers.[4]
    8. Compile a list of people who could be character references or submit recommendations.
    9. Commit to making __ number of new contacts in the field this year.
    10. Create a financial plan.

    For Getting a Promotion

    1. Reduce business expenses by a certain percentage.
    2. Stop micromanaging your team members.
    3. Become a mentor.
    4. Brainstorm ways that you could improve your productivity and efficiency at work
    5. Seek a new training opportunity to address a weakness.[5]
    6. Find a way to organize your work space.[6]
    7. Seek feedback from a boss or trusted coworker every week/ month/ quarter.
    8. Become a better communicator.
    9. Find new ways to be a team player.
    10. Learn how to reduce work hours without compromising productivity.

    For Acing a Job Interview

    1. Identify personal boundaries at work and know what you should do to make your day more productive and manageable.
    2. Identify steps to create a professional image for yourself.
    3. Go after the career of your dreams to find work that does not feel like a job.
    4. Look for a place to pursue your interest and apply your knowledge and skills.
    5. Find a new way to collaborate with experts in your field.
    6. Identify opportunities to observe others working in the career you want.
    7. Become more creative and break out of your comfort zone.
    8. Ask to be trained more relevant skills for your work.
    9. Ask for opportunities to explore the field and widen your horizon
    10. Set your eye on a specific award at work and go for it.

    Career Goal Setting FAQs

    I’m sure you still have some questions about setting your own career goals, so here I’m listing out the most commonly asked questions about career goals.

    1. What if I’m not sure what I want my career to be?

    If you’re uncertain, be honest about it. Let the employer know as much as you know about what you want to do. Express your willingness to use your strengths to contribute to the company. When you take this approach, back up your claim with some examples.

    If you’re not even sure where to begin with your career, check out this guide:

    How to Find Your Ideal Career Path Without Wasting Time on Jobs Not Suitable for You

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    2. Is it okay to lie about my career goals?

    Lying to potential employers is bound to end in disaster. In the interview, a lie can make you look foolish because you won’t know how to answer follow up questions.

    Even if you think your career goal may not precisely align with the employer’s expectations for a long-term hire, be open and honest. There’s probably more common ground than they realize, and it’s up to you to bridge any gaps in expectations.

    Being honest and explaining these connections shows your employer that you’ve put a lot of thought into this application. You aren’t just telling them what they want to hear.

    3. Is it better to have an ambitious goal, or should I play it safe?

    You should have a goal that challenges you, but SMART goals are always reasonable. If you put forth a goal that is way beyond your capabilities, you will seem naive. Making your goals too easy shows a lack of motivation.

    Employers want new hires who are able to self-reflect and are willing to take on challenges.

    4. Can I have several career goals?

    It’s best to have one clearly-defined career goal and stick with it. (Of course, you can still have goals in other areas of your life.) Having a single career goal shows that you’re capable of focusing, and it shows that you like to accomplish what you set out to do.

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    On the other hand, you might have multiple related career goals. This could mean that you have short-term goals that dovetail into your ultimate long-term career goal. You might also have several smaller goals that feed into a single purpose.

    For example, if you want to become a lawyer, you might become a paralegal and attend law school at the same time. If you want to be a school administrator, you might have initial goals of being a classroom teacher and studying education policy. In both cases, these temporary jobs and the extra education help you reach your ultimate goal.

    Summary

    You’ll have to devote some time to setting career goals, but you’ll be so much more successful with some direction. Remember to:

    • Set SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, and Realistic with Timelines. When you set goals with these things in mind, you are likely to achieve the outcomes you want.
    • Have short-term and long-term goals. Short-term career goals can be completed in 1-3 years, while long-term goals will take 3-5 years to finish. Your short-term goals should set you up to accomplish your long-term goals.
    • Assess your capabilities by coming up with an Individual Development Plan. Knowing how to set goals won’t help you if you don’t know yourself. Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are by taking some self-assessments.
    • Choose goals that are appropriate to your ultimate aims. Your career goals should be relevant to one another. If they aren’t, then you may need to narrow your focus. Your goals should match the type of job that you want and the quality of life that you want to lead.
    • Be clear about your goals with potential employers. Always be honest with potential employers about what you want to do with your life. If your goals differ from the company’s objectives, find a way bridge the gap between what you want for yourself and what your employer expects.

    By doing goal-setting work now, you’ll be able to make conscious choices on your career path. You can always adjust your plan if things change for you, but the key is to give yourself a road map for success.

    More Tips About Setting Work Goals

    Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

    Reference

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