Questions are the answer!
Do you agree? Could that be true? Did you notice what I'm doing to find out? (hint: I just asked you questions).
I agree with Tony. Thinking is asking and answering questions. The quality of your thinking is determined by the quality of your questions.
Your mind is a powerful computer, capable of answering anything you ask it. No matter what you ask, your mind will come up with answers. If you ask lousy questions, you get lousy answers. If you ask great questions, you get great answers.
From Tony Robbins: If you are trying to lose weight, a lousy question is "why am I so fat?". Your brain will come up with answers: you're a pig, you have no will power, you never met a food you couldn't resist. A much better question would be: "How can I become incredibly fit and enjoy the process?". You might come up with answers like inviting friends over to experiment with healthy food recipes, listening to your favorite music while you jog or ride the stationary bicycle, challenging your children or grandchildren to compete with you in a marathon, trying that new sport you've always wanted to master. Better questions get better answers.
Questions I ask during planning: If I could only get one thing done today, what must that be? The answer becomes my #1 priority. I change "today" to whatever time period I'm planning (tomorrow, this week, next week, next month, ...). If that one priority were done, and I could only complete one more thing, what must that be? That answer becomes my #2 priority. I repeat that process to prioritize my "must results" for whatever time period I'm working with.
When I've defined a must result, I like to ask "How could I get this done and enjoy the process" or "What are all the different ways I could get this done?". That gives me a long laundry list of options, which gives me a lot of flexibility. For example, when I'm trying to improve my cardio fitness, my "hows" include things like riding a stationary bicycle, going for a walk or bicycle ride in the neighborhood, using the stairs instead of the elevator, jogging with a friend, swimming laps, playing volleyball, mowing the lawn with a "push mower", woodworking with a hand saw instead of a power saw. I only need to do a fraction of the things on my list yet having so many options makes it more likely I will do "something".
When I am planning new products or services or reviewing old, I like to ask: How can I add massive value to my clients and do so on a scale that is massively profitable to them and to me? I also like to ask "What are even better ways to do that?".
When I am stressed about something and want to attack it with humor, or if I'm writing original humorous material, or I want to add humor to serious material, I like to ask: "What's funny about this?" or "What could be funny about this?" or "What would it take for this to be funny?" or "How could I make this funny?". Since I've learned how to write comedy, I always come up with great answers.
When I am planning my "life's destiny" I like to ask a question I learned from Brian Tracy : What would I dare to do if I knew I could not fail?
When I do my end-of-day debrief (lessons learned) I like to ask some questions from Jim Rohn : Are the disciplines I'm currently engaged in taking me where I want to go? Is that the direction I want for my life (or business)? Or is this someone else's direction? What am I doing that is working? What am I doing that is not working? What do I need to do differently? How? What changes must I make to my plans? What changes must I make to what else? (Infrastructure, processes, strategies, ...).
I learned and created a lot of great "start the day" and "end the day" questions from Tony Robbins' Personal Power program.
From 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix, I learned a great question to break through "writers block": If you knew you were going to die next week, and you could only share one all important "life's lesson" with your spouse, your children, your family, your best friends, your clients, what would that lesson be? Darren spent a few hours writing several pages of answers until he finally found "the" answer -- the one that became his speech that won the 2001 World Championship.
Don Gause and Jerry Weinberg wrote an incredible book: Exploring Requirements: Quality Before Design. Their target audience was software developers but I've found the content valuable to anyone trying to figure out what their client wants and needs. They devote an entire chapter to "context free questions" - generic questions for processes, for products, and questions about questions. For example, for products you probably ask: "What problems does this product solve?". But, how often do you ask: "What problems could this product create?".
Are their questions worth the bother? One of their questions was "What is a highly successful solution really worth to this client?". True story from their book:
At 3:00am a man in dirty jeans and cowboy boots showed up at the service bureau operation of a large computer manufacturer. Through the locked doors he asked if he could buy three hours' worth of computer time on their machine that night. The night-shift operators were about to turn him away when one of them said: "Well, it costs $800 an hour. Is it worth $2,400?"A $10 million answer to a simple question. Was it worth it?
"Absolutely" said the cowboy, who emphasized the urgency by pulling a large wad of $100 bills from his pocket and waving them at the employees on the other side of the glass door. They let him in, took his payment in cash, and let him run his job on their machine. It turned out he owned a number of oil wells and, as a result of his computations, and especially the courteous treatment he received, he bought three of their giant computers, at a cost of $10 million.
The most important question for "thinking outside the box" is "why?". Why do we do it that way? Why is that so? Why haven't we tried X? Why is that the answer? You'll probably have to ask why repeatedly e.g.
We do "a" because of "b". Why do we do "b"? We do "b" because of "c". Why do we do "c"? Why do we do that? And, why do we do that? ...If you chase that chain far enough back, you may find a reason that no longer makes sense. Doing so yields better paradigms. An example:
My wife likes to cook pot roast. I noticed she always cut the ends off the roast before she put it in her large pan. I asked why? She told me that's the way she was taught, that's the way her mother always did it. I asked Why did her mother do it that way? She didn't know.Some of my favorite resources for questions and "thinking outside the box" are:
We asked her mother and we were told: "I don't know, that's the way I was taught, that's the way my mother always did it".
We asked grandma: "Mom told us you always cut the ends of your roasts before you put them in the pan, why?" Grandma shrugged and told us "I don't know, that's just the way I was taught, that's the way my mother did it".
So we asked Great Grandmother: "Why do you cut the ends off your roasts before you put them in the pan?". She told us that in the 1930's, during the great depression, she could not afford a large cooking pan. The only pan she could afford was so small, she had to cut the ends off the pot roast so it would fit.
Needless to say, we put an end to that paradigm.
What powerful questions do you ask? How have your answers helped you? What other question resources have you found?