Asking The Right Questions

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. ”
Peter Drucker

 When I saw some of the questions posed with this link, I was embarrassed to see that several, well okay many, of them I have asked.  As you probably already know I love to read. I am working my way through a few books (more on them next week), but I could not resist sharing this one that I have not read. It was good to learn that there is a more effective way to ask these same questions. In my position, I have the opportunity to interact with many different levels of executives and am frequently in awe of how they can so articulately present themselves and ask pertinent questions. This book, Power Questions, by Sobol and Panas looks like it might be my key to more effective communication or at least an interesting read.

I have included a short overview of the book below.

“An arsenal of powerful questions that will transform every conversation

Skillfully redefine problems. Make an immediate connection with anyone. Rapidly determine if a client is ready to buy. Access the deepest dreams of others. Power Questions sets out a series of strategic questions that will help you win new business and dramatically deepen your professional and personal relationships. The book showcases thirty-five riveting, real conversations with CEOs, billionaires, clients, colleagues, and friends. Each story illustrates the extraordinary power and impact of a thought-provoking, incisive power question. To help readers navigate a variety of professional challenges, over 200 additional, thought-provoking questions are also summarized at the end of the book.

In Power Questions you’ll discover:

  • The question that stopped an angry executive in his tracks
  • The sales question CEOs expect you to ask versus the questions they want you to ask
  • The question that will radically refocus any meeting
  • The penetrating question that can transform a friend or colleague’s life
  • A simple question that helped restore a marriage

When you use power questions, you magnify your professional and personal influence, create intimate connections with others, and drive to the true heart of the issue every time.”

I welcome your thoughts on asking power questions. Will you volunteer to read the book and let me know if it should be on my priority reading list? Or maybe just watch the slide show from the link and confess as I did that you too have asked these questions.


Trying to figure out how to get more hours in your day? Read this.

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? That Is The Question.



Do you know what Lady Gaga and Barack Obama have in common? Probably not difficult to figure out given the title for this post!

Okay, I admit I too have a Twitter account , but seldom use it. It sits there in the same realm as my Facebook account. Once in a while I brush off the cobwebs and do actually post a comment on Facebook, but I view this as a “personal” tool and in that light I leave it up to my husband to keep his Facebook current with family news. He does after all have the largest family and extended family. Just within the Amstutz’ clan there are enough Facebook connections for me to play Word With Friends for hours using his account. They now all think he has an extraordinary vocabulary.

Back to Tweeting, perhaps I should examine this more closely and determine the how, why, and what I might use it for. I know from the below link that Lady Gaga is the supreme Tweeter with the most followers.  Just to be considered in the same league with her leaves me breathless. What would be next for me? How about a new carnivorous wardrobe?  Nope, don’t think so. Well, what then might I get out of a steady Twitter stream? Would I gain valuable knowledge? Would I be able to impart nuggets of my wisdom daily in addition to my weekly posts?  While I ponder this a bit, you might want to view the link for some interesting fast facts about Twitter.

I see the use of Twitter as a marketing engine, I see it as a way to quickly send a sound bite to family and friends in one fell swoop, I see it as a way to stay connected with current happenings when at a conference with a group of business associates, but I just don’t see it as useful for me.  Does that make me less technically adept? Or does that just confirm what my closest friends and family already know? I would prefer to think the latter. Let me clarify, I am by nature an introvert, yes, that’s right, I have that “I” in my Myers-Briggs profile. But even so, I am open to change. While I do prefer reading a good book to going to a party, I am open to the fact that the whole world seems to be Tweeting away and I might just be the only twit who does not Tweet daily.  So in my mission to continually grow and expand both personally and professionally, I will be examining the cost (time) benefit (visibility) equation of Twitter.  With Lady Gaga and Barrack Obama at such opposite ends of the spectrum and both of them Tweeting prodigiously, why would I not want to join their ranks?

As I begin this adventure of Tweeting discovery, I will be happy to share with you what I learn along the way, or better yet just follow me @DAAStutz as I Tweet my journey. Hey, I think I just may have found a use for my Twitter account after all!

Fostering Creativity

Albert Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions” And I find in most organizations people are running around spending sixty minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter.”

~ Stephen Shapiro

What do scotch tape, sand paper, golf clubs, and smart phones have in common? That is the challenge I presented to you in the last post. Did you figure it out? No? Okay, if you really are keen to know, then you must read the book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer. Oh, not up for more reading? Then follow along with me and I will explain a bit about how creativity works according to Mr. Lehrer.  While doing this I will also give you the answer to why these seemingly disconnected items are really connected and a bit about where the very ideas for them came from.

Last week I spoke about the need to stay focused, but this week I’m going to talk about why it might be good at times to be more “defocused.”  In the book Lehrer cites many studies done by psychologists at leading universities into the way the brain works. What was found is that those sparks of creativity happen most often after periods of intense focus and then when frustration ensues this is the moment when the left brain gets tired and the right brain takes over. He explains that this mental shift often works because the struggle forces us to try something new. “Because we feel frustrated, we start to look at problems from a new perspective. You’ll see people bolt up in their chair and their eyes go all wide….Sometimes, they even say “Aha!”  before they blurt out the answer.”  This is the time when our brain gets a bit “defocused” and shifts the activity to the other side, to explore a more unexpected set of associations.

In the book, Lehrer talks about the ability to make separate ideas coexist in the mind and that this is a crucial creative tool. It is termed “conceptual blending.” This act of recombination was a key to Gutenberg transforming his knowledge of the winepress into an idea for a printing machine, the Wright brothers’ knowledge of bicycles into inventing the airplane, and Dick Drew’s invention of masking tape from his knowledge of sand paper and low sticking factor glue.  Drew was not just a “one hit wonder” he went from being a sandpaper salesman to being a full-time researcher. From his interaction with a colleague who told him about a new packing material called cellophane he connected his knowledge of glue to create what we know today as Scotch tape.

This brings me to my challenge from last week, this process of conceptual blending has been repeated again and again at 3M (yes, Dee you were correct in part with your comment last week). The adhesive used in industrial-strength masking tape gave rise to sound-dampening panels used in Boeing aircraft. Those panels in turn gave rise to the adhesive foam used in golf clubs, and the concept of Scotch tape inspired another 3M engineer to invent the touch-screen technology used in smartphones. There are many more examples in the book, but this should give you enough to understand the importance of conceptual blending.

At 3M, this is taken so seriously that they regularly rotate engineers from division to division to keep the good ideas circulating. In the software development camp, the new “open cubicle” concept and SCRUM teams help foster interaction across disciplines. This is part of building an environment that encourages creativity and should also make conceptual blending possible. There are other interesting approaches that they take at 3M to foster creativity and I am thinking hard about how we might apply some of them in our Software Engineering organizations. These alone have made this book interesting reading. I just need to get past all of the drug induced inspiration of poets and the alcoholic haze of musical lyrics to pull out the creative environmental opportunities that might apply to our work environment.

As for setting up conditions to support creativity, research has shown that the color blue automatically triggers associations with the sky and the ocean bringing with it a mental relaxation that makes it easier to daydream and pay attention to insights where we are less focused on what is in front of us and more aware of the possibilities in our imaginations. Other research has shown that creativity at times is inspired by other people or in other words a collaborative process. I call this “getting together to paint the restrooms blue.” How many of us have had ideas spawned by casual interactions with others as we head to the restroom at work? Well I would suggest that if we had only one central bathroom location in the building that this would force these interactions and if we could paint all of our bathrooms blue, well that would be creative nirvana.

Please excuse the brevity of this post. I need to send an email to our facilities management to request closure of the upstairs restrooms and volunteer to paint the downstairs restroom blue. Do you think they will approve my request?

To read more from the author of Imagine, below is a link to Jonah Lehrer’s blog.

Here is link to an interesting post on problem solving with a reference to the Einstein quote.

Keeping The Squirrel’s Tamed – Staying Focused

As I was reading my 500th email the other day, I came across this blog by Peter Bergman the author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.  I did like I usually do and stopped everything to not only read his interesting tips for how to better manage my daily glut of emails, but also to read the first chapter of his book and download it to my iPad. While doing this I kept on reading other emails that had piled up since I shut down the evening before at 10 p.m. and did I mention that I also had started to read my emails from home at breakfast at 6 a.m. that morning?

Don’t we all love this information age where we are inundated with so much valuable information that we can’t get anything done? As I was doing all of this triple tasking, (did I tell you I was working on a project at the same time?) I came across another blog that talked about Agile Development – we use this here at Sage – and the need for the teams to be able to stay focused. In this second blog, I noticed a section headed “Squirrel” that immediately caught my eye. Right about now you’re probably asking yourself what the heck is she leading up to and why can’t she stay focused? Well, that’s because every email that comes in dings and for me that is just like yelling “Squirrel!” at your dog. You know, when you are out for a walk and he sees one of these bushy-tailed creatures and he immediately breaks from his “heel” and goes nuts trying to catch that pesky critter.

The light came on for me, not only was I responding to that email ding like my beloved dog responds to squirrels, but I was also guilty of shouting “squirrel!” to the team during our sprint reviews. For those of you not familiar with Agile, a sprint review is conducted after a pre-defined period of intense work. For us, this is every three weeks. The sprint review is where the team gathers to show what they have accomplished and celebrate meeting their goals. As it would happen, my epiphany came on a Monday morning right before we had our Product Owner/Managers meeting – another Agile driven meeting – and this gave me the opportunity to ask for feedback and explain that I thought I probably was guilty of getting the teams distracted by yelling squirrel. They of course were very nice to me, but did give me some great feedback — in my heart I know I am guilty of the squirrel gig. What we worked out was a process for me to give the feedback at the right time to the right person so that the team would not be distracted.

Now it’s time for you to do some introspective thinking. When have you yelled “squirrel” to your team? When have you jumped up and responded to the squirrel call? Both are equally bad as the first distracts others and the second is personally worse because it keeps you from being focused and productive.

I would encourage you to read Mr. Bergman’s blog and put his suggestions to the test. As for yelling “squirrel!,” make sure that if you do it is because he is really as dangerous as the picture at the top of this post.

Be on the lookout for next week’s post. In it I will give you some examples where being too focused might limit your creativity and at the same time let you know what scotch tape, sand paper, golf clubs, and smart phones have in common.  For those of you who are creative types and have the answer to this feel free to comment here on your thoughts about the commonality.

Mastering Your Stories

Assumptions are the termites of relationships. Henry Winkler

There are all types of stories, the bedtime stories we tell our children, the big fish that got away stories that we tell after vacations, and those stories we tell our spouse for why the credit card balance just keeps increasing.  However, this is not about any of those stories. What this is about is those stories we tell ourselves every day. An example might be when our boss walks in to the office in the morning passes us in the hall and doesn’t say good morning, how many of us immediately tell ourselves the story “gosh I must have really messed up my status report last night and he’s going to blast me when I have my one on one this afternoon.”  Then we sweat all day until we have our meeting with the boss in the afternoon, only to find out that he has a toothache and isn’t feeling well.  What a better day we would have had if we had just not jumped so quickly to tell the negative story.  Think about every day when things happen and the stories we tell ourselves only to later find out that our stories were just manifestations of how we were feeling at the time.

The concept of “mastering stories” comes from some training and a book that I read many years ago. The book is Crucial Confrontations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.  If you have read it you might remember that the concept of mastery of stories is around first reflecting on and seeking out all of the possible reasons why the event might have happened.  Don’t immediately jump in and assume you know what is going on, but instead ask yourself why a reasonable rational person might have done what you observed. I like to think of this as” always assume the best intentions.” If you can accomplish this and stop telling yourself negative stories, I think you will find that you have a better working relationship with others and at the same time a much more positive work environment.

Here is an exercise to illustrate my point. Think over your week. Think really hard.  When during the week did you tell yourself a story that turned out to be a real fabrication of the experience? Be honest, I’m sure that you can come up with at least one example. Mine would go something like this… during a project meeting a manager from another department brought up the need to keep another director and one of the senior officers in the company informed. When this happened I told myself this story. “She must not agree with what we are doing and wants to run and tattle on us to the big boss…” I was frustrated for the team because this certainly seemed like unnecessary bureaucracy and we already had a good plan and process worked out to move forward efficiently and why couldn’t she just see that? So I fumed for a few minutes and then took myself to task to master my story (you can think of this as going and standing in the corner and giving myself a good talking to). After a phone call and a short conversation with the manager, I then understood that she was not trying to add another layer of decision-making, but instead just trying to ensure that the other executives who would be driving this process moving forward were fully informed. No changes for the team on their processes, just a way to have full disclosure so that the other executives could make effective decisions.

Back to your story. Were you able to master it? Did you use the reasonable rational person view? Did you assume the best intentions? If not, go stand in the corner for a bit and think about it, or better yet, pick up a copy of the book Crucial Confrontations and learn how to master your stories from the experts.