Johnny Carson’s gift to guests on The Tonight Show was his ability to be generous with his questions. He rarely told a cheap joke at the guest’s expense or attempted to tell a better story. His questions were strategically curious, drawing out the best from the person sitting in the chair next to him. Jonny was willing to ask for more. He calculated that his guest’s success would benefit the show for the years to follow.
How can we emulate Johnny and be less insistent about inserting our stories into a conversation? Ever stand next to a stranger at a party and have a remarkable interaction, later to realize that they asked insightful questions such that you spent the majority of the time talking about what makes you unique. Set people up for success and both of you will be rewarded.
Where do we encounter boundaries? Some are visible and others require prior knowledge to know where they exist. Organization’s have boundaries. We discover them when we attempt new ideas that will move the enterprise closer to the edge. No matter how much fuel and momentum we have for the journey inevitably a counter movement will try to stop the advance. Mapping boundaries is unpredictable an imprecise. One way to make them visible is to launch an initiative and see who and what joins the effort and where the forces that are running against you appear.
A few questions to consider: What wouldn’t we do as an organization? Why? What would the board that follows think about our current deliberations? If failure is a distinct possibility what is worth attempting anyway? Is this boundary sacred or intentional and when do we last discuss its merits? What if another enterprise makes remarkable progress on the frontier we are unwilling to enter? Would we reconsider if someone else goes first? Are we trying to be safer or better?
Do you need a path to follow in order to have maximum impact? Are you trying to obtain top speed and the highest level of efficiency regardless of the direction? What are you uniquely positioned to offer your community? If you retraced your steps, would it add value or do you require a new route every time out? What opportunity if it appeared would make you change course? What assumption is holding you back? How do you know? If you could move the frame what part of your world would you place in the center? What would you leave out?
We ask generative questions constantly but do we give ourselves permission to explore the answers? To wrestle with the abstract? Seth Godin encourages us to pick ourselves. Chris Brogan reminds us that nobody is going to give us permission, permission was granted long ago for each of us.
What is the most important question you need to ask?