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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 February 20, 2019

    17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities

    17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities

    When we look at a job advertisement, it can seem as though employers want an exhaustive list of experience and technical skills from their new hire.

    They list desirable qualities such as ‘initiative’, ‘team player’ and ‘strong work ethic’. Those words can mean a variety of things to different people and it can be quite hard for employers to illustrate fully the combination of technical and soft skills they want their potential employees to have.

    What they often want is a mix of versatile skills that make it easy for them (and you) to adapt to the changing needs and demands which occur in businesses today.

    After all, adaptability and innovation are what make businesses thrive.

    In today’s ever-changing environment, versatility is a mandatory attitude every working person needs to have. With the following seventeen work skills, you will not only make your employer extremely happy and confident that hiring you was their best decision, you will experience greater personal satisfaction and results.

    1. Know What You Want but More so Why You Want It

    Employers need to sense you have a solid idea as to why you are a fit for their role and their organization. They need to sense you have your own sense of purpose.

    However, it can be a double-edged sword to say you know exactly what you want to achieve and gain if you are successful in your application and interview.

    Some employers can perceive this as arrogance; your needs first, theirs second. What employers are really looking for is your internal sense of knowing that potential to join their organization is a winning combination for both of you.

    2. Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution Skills Save Money, Lost Productivity and Efficiency

    Can you agree to disagree? Can you evaluate without passing judgment or at least be self-aware of your own biases? Can you put these aside to find solutions for the betterment of the team?

    Employers look for versatility in soft work skills that bring peace, lower stress and contribute to creating harmony. If you have ways with words to help heated arguments reduce to a simmer so there is space for compromises, negotiations and reasoning to take place your employers’ respect for you will jump at least tenfold.

    Peace-making skills are invaluable in changing workplace culture, particularly toxic ones. Any good employer knows a strong in-house negotiator will save them thousands of dollars in engaging an external mediator.

    3. Know How to Set and Reframe Your Own Goals

    Much research has documented that when employees have a clear purpose, mission and goals, they are more likely to be highly productive. They are less likely to flounder around in many directions nor be busy and not produce results that matter.

    Employers know well that employees who develop their own goals and can align these with those of the company are more self-driven, self-sufficient and take greater ownership for performing their role.

    And the benefit is not only to the employers. You personally will find greater personal satisfaction from achieving targets you have chosen to set yourself. Everyone wins!

    4. Great Time Management and Organization Skills Make You Highly Productive

    Being able to exercise versatility with these work skills needs no explanation. Great time management does not mean multi-tasking. It actually uses more brain power and reduces effectiveness.

    Having great skills to prioritize your activities and demands, being able to assess how long things might take you to address are planning skills which greatly aid effective and better execution.

    Working in harmony with your colleagues’ timetables makes for better teamwork and workflow plus a less stressed environment.

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    In today’s working world, any strategies for reducing stress-invoking opportunities are like finding golden nuggets. Your employer will want to hold on to those for dear life!

    5. Be a Flexible Team Player by Being Able to Change Roles When Required

    Employers will be looking to see how flexible a team player, a potential employee could be.

    If you are a natural leader, being a better team player might, in fact, mean you stepping down from the helm and encouraging someone else to exercise and step into their leadership potential.

    It might be more beneficial to your employer to play the role of Indian as opposed to the Chief in certain situations. Stepping into different positions on your team not only helps you grow but also the rest of your team.

    Employers relish having a versatile work team which can adapt and is ready and willing to play different roles, even if uncomfortable when crises happen.

    6. Initiative, Self-Motivated and Driven

    When you have your own internal reasons for looking to undertake a role your motivation is driven by something sizzling inside of you.

    There is a personal drive and desire for the satisfaction you will experience when you meet a certain target that no other person will be able to give to you.

    When you can genuinely identify and demonstrate your own personal connection to the role’s objectives and the greater goals of your employer’s business, they will see you have an internal drive that they don’t need to whip and flog to keep the momentum going.

    Any employer will be grateful they just need to help navigate you and support you with the right tools and network and off you go.

    7. Be Confident but Not Arrogant

    Imagine if you were conducting initial telephone interviews with shortlisted candidates and one of the questions they asked was:

    “How long would it be until I’ll be eligible for a pay rise or promotion?”

    There is a significant difference between being confident and arrogant. Employers are not looking for confidence purely in you being able to perform every aspect of your role at gold star level.

    It comes with being comfortable to say you don’t understand, you have made a mistake, you need support, further training, acknowledging what your limits are and being willing to risk stepping outside your comfort zone.

    When you’re a new kid on the block, respecting that you may need to learn to walk before you can run is essential. Unless it is your job to start making significant changes from day one, chances are you’re going to create enemies if you’re so confident your new methods and ideas should replace existing processes.

    8. A Positive Attitude

    Demonstrating positivity as a work skill that will truly win over your new employer is about being genuine and actively applying strategies which look for the glass half full.

    Recruiters and employers are not dumb. They can easily see through short-term bright smiles, nervous giggling and general ‘you just need to think positive’ statements.

    In the face of grueling challenges, employers are going to look much more favorably on that candidate who can acknowledge the negative features of a situation but still encourage another solution-focused perspective to be adopted.

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    Even better, if you can use language effectively to demonstrate how you have adopted a positive perspective and helped turned around a tough situation.

    It is one thing to have a positive attitude but your potential employer will see you as a superhero if you can show them how you have successfully applied it.

    Take a look at these tips to learn more about staying positive:

    10 Tips To Make Positive Thinking Easy

    9. You Are Resourceful but Know the Value of Asking for Help

    There is nothing more unproductive (let alone frustrating) than that person who simply asks out loud a question to their team when they could simply have Googled the answer.

    Or worse still, they have a manual at their fingertips which has the answer to their question…they were simply too lazy to look for themselves.

    Be that person with Sherlock Holmes as their middle name who sleuths like a dog after a buried bone. You can research and turn over stones to discover and learn what you need but you also are able to ask for help and assistance when you need to.

    Any employer will relish that person who looks to discover the answers to their own questions first before reaching out and asking for help.

    Hesitate to ask for help? This article may just change your mind:

    Afraid to Ask for Help? Change Your Outlook to Aim High!

    10. Emotional Intelligence Creates a Harmonious Workflow

    Despite the level of seniority of your role having a strong ability to handle emotions is fast becoming an essential work skill (and also life skill).

    It is even more desirable for any employer when your work skill set includes the ability to detect, adapt to and have skills in managing certain emotional patterns of others you need to work with, manage or report to.

    So much time, energy and productivity is lost due to individuals’ lack of skills in this area. Any manager who can see you possess and can demonstrate such versatile work skills will think they’ve won the managerial lottery!

    You can learn how to improve your Emotional Intelligence from this article:

    7 Practical Ways To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

    11. Be Able to Adapt Your Learning Style

    There is no real evidence that using preferred learning styles actually increase the rate at which we learn nor the effectiveness of certain styles.

    However, being able to make changes to what we are given to learn and adapting it to suit our needs and preferences does help us settle into a new work transition sooner.

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    We also need to recognize that even though we feel uncomfortable learning a new skill a certain way, it might actually be the way we need to receive it to cement the learning. It is also likely that our new employer only knows or has a budget to deliver training in a certain way.

    Either we can choose to adapt or resist but we know for sure the latter is not going to benefit to anyone.

    Want to find out what your learning style is? Take this quiz:

    How This Learning Style Quiz Can Help You Make the Most of Your Life

    12. Flexible Leadership Style

    Dan Goleman has conducted extensive research on different leadership styles, emphasizing that being versatile to switch between different styles (e.g. authoritative, coaching, affiliate, coercive, pace-setting) and knowing when to do is a fundamental skill for any leader.

    Being able to change your style to lead other people is as important as how you lead your own role responsibilities.

    If you want to be a better leader, these books are great resources:

    15 Best Leadership Books Every Leader Must Read To Achieve Success

    13. Incredible Communication Skills That Actively Listen and Give Clear Messages

    Strong and effective communication across all mediums takes time, life experience and highly developed intuition.

    Knowing when to use email, a face to face conversation or telephone discussion is one thing. Another is to use words which emotionally connect and influence the receiver to accept, hear and heed your message.

    Great communicators know that it is their responsibility as much as the receiver for good communication to take place. However, they also know that the receiver may not feel this is the case.

    When you can listen equally, be sensitive to read between the lines to hear the message of ineffective communicators and can respond kindly with inspiring, equalizing and encouraging words, your influence and general likeability as a new addition to your employer’s team will develop in leaps and bounds.

    These books are also nice resources to learn effective communication:

    13 Best Communication Books for Stronger Social Skills & Relationships

    14. Accountable, Responsible and Dependable

    We’ve all worked with people or managers at some point who lay external blame the instance something goes wrong.

    Contrary to popular belief, making mistakes and owning up to it is a highly desirable and versatile work skill that gains loyalty and understanding particularly when mistakes occur.

    Owning up to errors early allows both yourself and the business to recover quickly and shows you’re willing to take responsibility to continue forward on when you have stumbled.

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    When you illustrate you can do this, you build your employer’s trust and faith in you.

    15. Exercise Proactive Self-Awareness

    Self-reflection is a highly empowering work skill that contributes greatly to becoming better and performing better.

    When you actively look for the achievement, celebrate your success and look for pockets of where mistakes you have made can be corrected you improve faster, become more effective and make your work easier.

    When you start to look at your own errors, receiving feedback from your employer about the same errors can feel far less confronting and having corrective conversations is easier, transparent and far less stressful and emotional.

    You naturally increase your resilience and make life easier for yourself and your employer if you conduct regular self-check-ins and keep your employer updated.

    Here’s how to practice self-awareness:

    How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Be Much More Successful

    16. Apply a Problem-Solving Growth Mindset

    When faced with a problem or challenge, your ability to activate a growth mindset is a highly versatile work skill employers love. Not only are you able to reduce the pain and anguish that a fixed mindset can sustain but your ability to remain open to possibilities to find different pathways or ideas is refreshing and helpful.

    If your thought patterns automatically ask: “How can we?” or you often think “there must be a way”, you will only contribute to creating growth opportunities for your organization and inspire others to think the same way.

    Learn more about developing a growth mindset here:

    5 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Self Improvement

    17. Be Teachable

    If you have ever tried to teach someone a new skill or technique and they keep reverting back to traditional ways that are familiar to them, you might have become frustrated to the point of giving up.

    Don’t be that person who’s stuck in tradition which no longer serves the business. Whether you are entering a new environment, learning new software or negotiation skills, know that all employers need people who are open to being taught.

    Innovation is a core concern of every business. Innovation means change and change means doing something different.

    Stay Versatile and Keep Learning

    Technical skills can often be taught. Ray Croc illustrated how well a systemized franchise can dominate the planet. Over 36,000 McDonald’s establishments around the world are run by managers barely in their twenties!

    Soft work skills, however, take time to develop, learn and confidently apply.

    There is a key combination of work skills that would make any candidate employer’s dream. However, the essential factor underlying all of these work skills is versatility.

    Equip yourself with these 17 work skills, stay curious and keep learning; and you’ll always nail the job you want.

    More Resources About Career Success

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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