questionsI was talking to a CIO recently who is on a mission to take his IT organization, and, more importantly, his entire enterprise, to a much higher level of business-IT maturity.  We were discussing the CIO’s role in influencing the business leadership, and ways to achieve that.

When Questions Are Better Than Answers

Very early in my career, a wise boss said to me, “Vaughan, when in trouble, ask questions!  It buys you time to think, and often helps clarify the situation, and how you can help.”  This was wonderful advice, and a technique now that is totally instinctive for me (I’m often in trouble, and need time to think!)

Some years later, I had the privelege to meet and work with Eric Vogt, at the time the head of MicroMentor, Inc., a pioneer in the design and development of interactive multimedia learning.  Eric taught me a great deal about The Art and Architecture of Powerful Questions, techniques that I have relied on as a management consultant for many years.

Powerful Questions

In Eric’s own words:

A powerful question…
•  stimulates reflective thinking
•  challenges assumptions
•  is thought-provoking
•  generates energy and a vector to explore
•  channels inquiry, promises insight
•  is broad and enduring
•  touches a deeper meaning
•  evokes more questions

Architecture of Powerful Questions

Vogt suggests that there is a hierarchy of questions, with increasing power to stimulate reflective thinking, and that virtually any question can be converted into a more powerful question by moving up the pyramid.


So, how good at you at asking powerful questions?  When “in trouble” do you gabber on in self defense?  Or, do you turn the table and use the opportunity to cause reflection, and ask powerful questions?