If you asked the world's most successful business leaders they'll all tell you success comes down to frame better questions and driving the right dialog--it's not about finding "the answer." It's about taking the time to truly understand what question you are trying to answer.
The problem is that most people don't ask the right questions. And you can't help them find the right answer if you're solving the wrong problem. My fellow Inc. columnist, Nicolas Cole, said it well in his recent article; " You have to start with figuring out what problem you're solving, instead of searching for the answer."
Questions trigger ideas. Some of the most creative and innovative companies of our day are better at asking exceptional questions that spark creativity and inspire people to take things a step further to develop amazing ideas. They make a business out of being insanely good at asking questions. At Idea Booth my creative agency, one of the things we try to instill in our employees is the knowledge that the right question is more important than finding the right answer. We teach them that the right answer to the wrong question is always going to be worse than the wrong answer to the right question, 100 percent of the time--there's no right answer to the wrong question.
In our industry, the habit is to come prepared with half-baked answers without any understanding of the question. Designers will have an art answer. Developers will have a programming answer, and so on.
But that leaves you with creativity for creativity's sake, and is a complete waste of time. To think you have the answer before the client even knows the question they're asking is the height of arrogance and the best way to run your business into the ground.
If the client knew the right questions to ask, they wouldn't be coming to you! Our job as an agency is to help the client discover the right questions because the right questions tend to guide us to the right answers.
An adapted example from a recent experience of mine went like this.
A client says "We want you to handle our marketing". You get excited, you send them the contracts, and throw your team into execution. Your trusted creatives all start adding their two cents:
"We should do a campaign like this!"
"Let's update the designs!"
"How about we build a microsite?"
Your whole team is running around, doing all sorts to impress and make the new client happy
Then the client returns: "What results can you show us?"
You present reports of higher engagement on social media, on brand awareness, and on press mentions, making your campaign look successful.
To which the client responds, "But our goal was to sell more X."
Now, did anyone on the marketing team screw up? The execution was as perfect as ever. The problem was that nobody started by asking the right question.
Everyone assumed the question was that to which they had the best answer: "How can we be more creative?" Instead, the right question to ask would have been, directed at the client, "What is your measure of success?"
Client: "We want to increase our market share by 2 percent."
Now you have a clear vision to work toward.
If you don't have this "chief aim" then how are you going to know if what you're doing is going to have an impact?
There's a famous quote in the world of advertising that says: "Creative without strategy is called 'art', Creative with strategy is called 'advertising'."
Ask, ask, ask.
If you don't know what you're working toward, then your designs and your creative you spent hours creating were merely ideas that are nice to talk about, but were never real solutions to the problem.
They're not really aimed at anything in particular -- because you have no measure of success. You're missing the right answer because you are focused on the wrong question. However, if you first focus on asking the right questions, then you will have a very clear trajectory toward which you can aim.
You will have a strategy, not a long list of tactics that only serve to satisfy your desire for vanity.
You are only setting ourselves up for success by asking the right questions. You're never too smart or too successful that you no longer need to ask. Some of the largest conflicts, and costly mistakes, in history are simply the result of a misunderstanding.
By asking questions, in the beginning, we save our own time, we know what we're looking for, and everyone gets their happy ending.