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March 2013

Great Questions

"We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."

… Desmond Morris (b. 1928) English zoologist 

The modern world is consumed with the need for answers. We are constantly seeking to explore the universal principle of cause and effect for answers to understand life, the universe and everything. The benefit of such inquiry through the centuries can be seen in the standard of living that many enjoy today.

Each answer we create is an interpretation of a situation. The better the interpretation, the better the answer. Many people come to see their answers as a definitive interpretation - the "truth". When they do this, they come to the end of their journey of inquiry in that specific domain and their "truth" becomes part of their unchallenged assumptions which informs their future interpretations.

There appears to be a clear benefit for each of us in developing our own "truth". Human beings are drawn to the need for certainty, particularly as it applies to our future. When we believe something is absolutely true, we ascribe it certainty. In doing so, we no longer have to consider that aspect of our life and so we can put it aside and consider other things.

The downside to holding the "truth" is the creation of a blindness for us. We no longer see a "truth" as being open to challenge and ignore any evidence that may contradict it. As this "truth" is an unseen context for future interpretations, it is also means this blindness may lead us to unresolved paradoxes in our worldview.

Like the principle of cause and effect, an answer is also part of a pair - an answer comes from a question. In this sense, it can be seen that a question is the beginning of a journey and the answer is the end. What lies in between is the opportunity for learning.

Today we are challenged by increasing change and complexity leading to an inclination to look for more certainty in order to cope. As a result, we want our answers to be the "truth" as this gives something to hold onto in a growing space of uncertainty. The problem here is that our "truth" is often not the best way to deal with these new situations as the accompanying blindness closes off better solutions to the issues at hand.

Each question can be seen as a context for the responding answer. A question points us somewhere. For example, if I ask you "what is most valuable to you in reading our e-zine?" then you will most likely consider the aspects that are of value for you. On the other hand, if I ask you "what is least valuable to you in reading our e-zine?" then I am creating a context where you will see little value. The question points us in the journey of thought to be undertaken.

Master Coach, Julio Olalla has called coaching "a love affair with questions". And great answers require great questions.

So what makes a great question?

A great question will either open up the unknown for us or challenge our "truth". A great question is one that initiates a journey of discovery. It is one that does not have a ready answer and challenges our world view, creating a level of uncertainty for ourselves.

And this is why human beings do not tend to ask the great question. We don't want that uncertainty. It is easier to stay in our bubble of certainty believing that we know how we are and how the world is. It takes courage to ask great questions and even more courage to take the journey through the space of uncertainty to find new answers.

It is the questions they ask that make great coaches "great". They ask great questions and provide the support to help their clients through the space of uncertainty. They take their clients on journeys of adventure. Great coaches will do what we cannot do ourselves. They will challenge our "truth".

We invite you to explore more in the articles section of our web site.CreateNewThinking


Pause for Possibility

"The greatest gift is not being afraid to question."

… Ruby Dee (b. 1923) US actress

Given our topic this month, we would like to invite you to identify some great questions for yourself. Here is a simple exercise. Just say, you were given a book that was simply entitled, "Everything". This book literally contains the answer to every question you could ever ask about what already exists, however there is a catch. You can only ask ONE question!

Now, take a few minutes and think. What is the question you would ask? If you could only ask one question, what would it be? It could be about yourself, people you care about or something about the world in general.

Write your question down.

Was it a GREAT question? Does it challenge your assumptions? Is it going to challenge your worldview?

One way of working out whether or not it is a great question is to notice whether the thought of knowing the answer carries with it an uncomfortable feeling. If the question you wrote down does not carry a level of discomfort, we invite you reflect again and find another question - one that it would take courage to ask and maybe even more courage to find an answer.

Once you have found a great question for yourself, we invite you to explore the possibilities resulting from this question. Have a conversation with others or drop us a line and have a conversation with us.

If you are on Facebook or LinkedIn, we invite you to go our pages there and share your questions with others. Your question may well be of value to people other than yourself.

If you are Facebook aficionado, then go to Talking Facebook Page by clicking here. If LinkedIn is more your speed, then you can find us there by clicking here.

If you want to pause for more possibilities, you are invited to check out Jacqui's Pause for Possibilities Project.


The Monthly Diversion

Computers in Heaven

A woman arrives at the Pearly Gates and finds St. Peter is not there, but a computer terminal is sitting next to the arch.

She walks up to it and sees, "Welcome to www.Heaven.com. Please enter your User ID and Password to continue."

She doesn't have either, but underneath the fields is a small line reading:

"Forgot your ID or Password? Click Here." So she does.

Up pops a screen that reads, "Please enter at least two of the following, and your password and ID will be e-mailed to you." The fields included "Name," "Date of birth," "Date of death," and "Favorite Food."

The woman enters her name and date of birth, and clicks "Submit."

Up pops another screen that reads, "We are sorry, we did not find a match in our database. Would you like to register?" So the woman clicks the button marked "Yes."

A long and detailed form appears on the screen, and the woman spends some time filling it out. Then she clicks the "Submit" button.

Now she is faced with a screen reading, "We are sorry, this service is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later."

There is a button marked "Back." She clicks it.

A new page appears.

It reads, "Welcome to www.Purgatory.com. Please enter your User ID and Password to continue..."


"You never have to know all the answers because you won't be asked all the questions."

… Herbert Prochnow


Join Us Online

Do you want to explore some of these ideas in more depth? Then, we invite you to join our LinkedIn or Facebook group depending on your preference and share any insights you may have. You can find us on LinkedIn by clicking here or on Facebook by clicking here.

Want to Read More?

Since the formation of Talking About in 2005, we have published our e-zine every month. Before that, Chris wrote regular newsletters and e-zines with Gaia Consulting dating back to 1995. If you would like to explore more of Chris' ideas then you can access our e-zine archive and view any newsletter written since 2005 by clicking here or to look at all the articles Chris has written over the years simply click here.

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