If the answer is 42 what’s the question? Even in a slightly smaller scale a similar approach to strategic thinking is helpful and can be easily used.
When you’re doing something, pause, and ask yourself what is the question where the answer is what you’re doing right now. If you’re not satisfied with the question you should probably change something in what you’re doing right now.
This method is very simple but that’s why it is so powerful. I find asking the right questions the most effective way to take the temperature on what’s happening and where we are heading with the current course of actions.
Doing is easy. Movement is easy. The right type of progress is hard. When something has been set into motion it’s easier to keep on doing it and stay the course than stop or do drastic course corrections and question the approach.
A strong impetus is needed for change or to assure that you’re doing the right thing (and keep doing it). Asking a simple question that aligns with your outcome frames the setting and shows the implicit assumptions. It is also easy to test whether you are asking the right question.
Often, the question invokes implications that the scope or the magnitude is wrong (usually too small). It can be used to ensure that you can live with the consequences if the action is riskier or more challenging in nature.
Everyday business life is full of actions that start with some ideas or impulses to do something. The focus is on the methods and not the ends. This skews and limits the outcomes but this may not become apparent till the action is carried out, if even then.
For example, somebody suggests doing a marketing campaign using a certain marketing channel with a brilliant idea that kickstarted the whole process. The focus is on the creative and the execution.
The process did not start from the beginning where the project outcome was laid out, the target audience was defined and then the appropriate media channels for the respective audience reach were decided based on their suitability.
All these steps were already implicitly in the action where the creatives and campaign plans were carried out. Nobody stopped asking whether it makes any sense to do the whole thing from the results perspective using a particular media channel.
By asking the right question the overall setting becomes visible (and hopefully apparent). It’s rare to aim too high and be too ambitious than to focus on mediocre actions that yield weak results at best.
The worst part is not the wasted resources and poor results but the opportunity cost where something great and grandiose could have happened instead.
Is this the best use of my time now?