Imagine that I am holding a glass of water. Here’s a question for you (you know this one)…
What is the difference between a pessimist, and optimistic, an efficiency expert, and an innovator?
The pessimist sees the glass half empty. The optimist sees the glass half full. The efficiency experts says, “There’s too much glass (in other words, fire half the people).” And an innovator asks, “Is someone thirsty? Is there a better way to deliver the water? Is water really the best liquid?”
Innovators ask a lot of questions. They get at what is really needed, not just what is requested.
Most employees are good “soldiers,” doing what they are told to do. They are brilliant at executing and getting things done. Unfortunately, being a good order taker usually means you are not a good innovator.
The issue is, people are not trained to push back. They aren’t skilled in asking questions. They’ve never learned to dig deeper or to understand what is really needed and why.
After a speech, a client executive asked me how she could increase the level of innovation on her team. I told her, train your people to ask better questions. They don’t need to “think outside the box.” It is not about creative solutions. It is making sure each person is working on things that matter.
Sadly, too often, employees (and companies) are focused only on solutions.
So, if you want your people to be more innovative, you need them to ask better questions.
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Stephen Shapiro is the author of five books including “Best Practices Are Stupid” and “Personality Poker” (both published by Penguin). He is also a popular innovation speaker and business advisor.