Questions are powerful. Getting to the right answer begins with asking the right question. A particularly probing question can press us toward new perspectives, new insights, new methods. A very few questions–just the right questions–can stimulate wide-scale transformation
The Power of a Transformational Question
Robert Quinn relates the experience of consultant Kurt Wright who was working for a huge software project that involved a $100 million dollar contract. 400 hundred engineers were 38 months into a 60-month schedule. The project was slipping behind every month and was now 18 months behind. Worse still, if the project was not on schedule within 10 months, the contract required the company to pay a $30 million penalty. Disaster was 10 months away.
What would you do? Crack the whip and urge people on? Fire the managers responsible for the slippage and hire new ones? Give up?
After many conversations with people involved in the project Wright concluded that he had to change the fundamental “scripts” that were controlling the workers’ assumptions and behaviors. To galvanize everyone’s efforts and establish a new positive vision he concluded that it was necessary to change the underlying question. In short, those 400 engineers and managers needed a new and transformational question.
What would it take to finish one week early?
The question had to be creative, frame-breaking, and visionary. It had to capture imagination and motivate wholehearted commitment. Through a series of two-day retreats, Wright finally hit on the critical transformational question: “What would it take to finish this project one week early?”
On the surface, Quinn says, the question was ridiculous. Everyone was already trying to finish the project “on time” in a 5 year contract “one week early” is hardly different from on time. Besides that, going from 18 months behind to one week early seemed an impossible goal. And yet the question was powerful. It rewrote the underlying script by injecting a new frame for conversation. A few people began to take the foolish question seriously and then more joined in.(more…)