The Power of Questions

Every day you seamlessly interact with computers, whether it’s your laptop, phone, tablet, or ATM screen. But do you know that the pivotal moment responsible for this occurred back in the 1970s? This moment was a powerful question asked by Alan Kay: “How can we make computing more accessible and intuitive?”

In the 1970s, Xerox PARC was a hotbed of innovation, home to visionaries like Alan Kay and Douglas Engelbart. This question inspired the development of groundbreaking technologies such as the graphical user interface (GUI) and the mouse, culminating in the creation of the Xerox Alto. Despite Xerox’s failure to capitalize on these innovations commercially, the ideas born at Xerox PARC were picked up by Microsoft, Apple and others, shaping the digital landscape for decades.

The powerful question sparked a paradigm shift in computing.

With organizations of all sorts facing increased urgency and unpredictability, being able to ask smart questions has become key. “The Art of Asking Smarter Questions” offers a practical framework for the five types of questions to ask during strategic decision-making: investigative, speculative, productive, interpretive, and subjective:

  • Investigative: What’s Known?
  • Speculative: What If?
  • Productive: Now What?
  • Interpretive: So, What…?
  • Subjective: What’s Unsaid?

Leaders must invite dissenting views and encourage doubters to share their concerns. Cynefin offers for this an Aporia, a question is that you don’t know the answer—you have to think differently to resolve it

The post contains picture generated by Kandinsky bot by Sber AI

Could Kyrgyzstan be first to send people on Mars?

Had a great pleasure to facilitate the “Modelling for the SDGs” workshop organized by UNDP Kyrgyzstan this Saturday, 14 October 2023, a vital step in the collective journey to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in Kyrgyzstan and CentralAsia. We combined different tools to explore possible futures.
We are using the International Futures Model by Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures for trends projections.
We also explored an IMPOSSIBLY good and bad futures, Utopia and Dystopia–Kyrgyzstan being the first to send people on Mars; and country fully depopulated by the Martian Plague. For this exploration we used Future Backwards method by The Cynefin Company (formerly Cognitive Edge)
It was great to see how tools help unlocking the deep discussion and spot the turning points in the journey to future(s)

The Storycraft Adventures: Mapping Way Ahead with Fibonacci and Dragons

The Storycraft Adventures: Mapping Way Ahead with Fibonacci and Dragons Can stories be the driving force behind change and guide us towards a clear path forward? This question was at the heart of my recent workshop with the European Trainers Network. Our goal was to explore the potential of storytelling in finding solutions for pressing challenges, such as improving internal communication and achieving results with diverse teams. Using a guinea pig of a fictional scenario crafted from three real stories, we embarked on a three-step journey. We delved into telling the stories, leveraging the power of Anecdote Circles, mapped possible solutions in the complexity space using the Cynefin framework, and employed the technique of Planning Poker to prioritize our solutions.

A fragment of Carta marina, the public domain image.

Playing Planning Poker turned out to an immensely insightful exercise. For those who are not familiar with the Planning Poker—it is a gamified technique for estimations. The members of the group make estimates by playing numbered cards face-down to the table, instead of speaking to them aloud, to avoid the cognitive bias of anchoring. A typical deck has cards showing progressing in non-linear manner (e.g. 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100), as it better reflects the nature of the world. We played in Zoom White Board using a shortened deck by Redbooth—only 1, 3, 8, 100 and Dragon “Here be dragons” to mark dangerous unknown areas.

Our participants were tasked with estimating the level of effort required for the proposed solutions that we had mapped in the previous step. After the initial round of assessments, a fascinating picture emerged. Some ideas received similar estimates, while others, including seemingly straightforward solutions, garnered disparate cards—like a combo of 1, 100, and the enigmatic Dragon. Rather than seeking immediate consensus and convergence, we embraced the divergence and initiated conversations. This exploration uncovered a wealth of stories and nuanced solutions. For instance, the idea of having a dedicated communicator to facilitate dialogue between different teams was split into two parts. The first part, selecting a dedicated person to facilitate communication, received a score of 3 and was placed in the complicated domain—there are good practices how to do it. However, organizing the communication process itself, was considered a project itself, requiring expert knowledge and scored 100, and placed between complex and complicated dolmans—as it requires experimentation. Similarly, a seemingly simple idea to partner with an electronic company to provide travel adaptors for the US market was met with a dissenting Dragon card. This unexpected response raised important considerations related to legal requirements and the need to thoroughly assess market demands before proceeding.

The Storycraft Adventures workshop helped me to realize three things. First, stories has an immense transformative potential. Second, estimations, similar to Planning Poker, could highlight important deviations in views and dissents—promising unexplored territories and a fresh perspective. Third, in embracing the divergence and exploring the stories behind the different estimates, we uncovered a treasure chest of insights and valuable perspectives. By combining storytelling techniques with collaborative estimation methods, we gained a deeper understanding of the challenges at hand and charted a way forward that encompassed the complexity and nuances of our goals.

European Trainers Network is serving club members of any Toastmasters club in Europe. ETN facilitates development of skills needed to create and conduct training sessions using adult learning theory.