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The power of provocative questions, or how to solve problems by appearing to do nothing


About three years back, I discovered this time of year is great for reflection.

In business as in life, when the daily pressure eases, an opportunity is created for ideas to bubble to the surface. To encourage this, I grab a blank piece of paper and try to rattle my own cage with some thought-provoking questions. Let me walk you through the process:

Step 1: Clear the slate. Grab something you can write on and keep. Set aside some free time, 15 minutes is probably all you’ll need to do this exercise well.

Step 2: Poke yourself. No, not on Facebook. I want you to write down provocative questions that will force you to think of new and unique answers. We aren’t as concerned with the ‘right’ answers here, just radical ones.

How about some examples?

Imagine if I held a banana to your head and said…

  • … you can only work a quarter of the time you did last year, how will you make money?
  • … you’ve got to double your turnover and maintain profit, how will you do it?
  • If this business wasn’t about making money, what would it be about?
  • If you had the choice to start again, how would you do it differently?
  • Is this really what you want to do?
  • How can you remove yourself from being the choke-point in your business?
  • If you had the ideal team, how would your business operate?
  • If you couldn’t fail, what would you do with your business?

Step 3: Leave the questions unanswered. Once they’re out of your head and onto paper you can simply add to them over time. Remember, this isn’t a problem-solving exercise.

Step 4: Decompress. Let go of your business. Kick back with your family and friends.

Step 5: Wait for percolation. At some stage during your chill-fest you may find ideas about your business surface without you even trying. Should this occur, grab 30 minutes, sit down and re-read your initial questions. Answer them, but don’t worry about what’s reasonable or getting it ‘right’. Just get as many ideas as possible on the page.

Questioning: the aftermath

Once the day-to-day pressure is eased, you’ll be amazed by how many creative solutions suddenly come up. You may even stumble upon the answer to the conundrum you’ve been working so hard to solve. Alternatively, you could find you have a completely different understanding of your business compared to this time last year.

Remember, all you need is one or two good ideas to revolutionise your business. The crazy thing is, it’s often the small, seemingly insignificant statements that lead to the biggest changes. But only if you actually apply them.

Take some time out, create some space on the page, and open yourself up to a brand new start.

Steve Smit is a Business Coach with Reality Consulting. He works with business owners who want to increase their take home profits and work shorter hours. For a free copy of his ‘Business Accelerator Pack’ visit Realityconsulting.com.au or please email [email protected].