Questions are better than answers

Seek out the best questions.

By Mark Riffey

I’m always looking for great questions. “What exactly does a great question look like?”, you might ask. (Good question – ha!) Sometimes, you know right away, but a lot of times you don’t. It comes to you after you’ve spent two or three hours contemplating the answer, or digging into the data that hopefully contains the answer. Then… you turn a corner and think “Holy cow, -this- is why I was asked that question.” For that last type of question, it’s not often obvious until you’ve thought a while, grumbled a few times, and rooted around in the garden long enough to find that turnip, er I mean answer.

Questions burn a little

Naturally, I have some examples of questions that have provoked a lot of thought for me. Some drove me to change my mind about something. Others clarified a decision I’d been struggling with. Some made me realize they needed to be asked because they made me defensive.

I recently heard a new one that I suspect will be valuable as I dig into it. It made me start thinking about it as soon as I heard it. The reverse of this one is also worth considering.

What you do believe about your market that most people don’t believe -and why? – Tuto Assad

This next one makes you think about how your business is structured and how (and how long) you leverage the work your firm does. And in some situations, it might burn a little.

How much did you earn -last month- from work you finished 5 years ago? – Perry Marshall

Questions provoke

Sometimes questions go a little further. They provoke thought, and perhaps rile you up and make you defensive.

What benefit/feature/system, if removed from your offering, would devastate your clients? Now reverse that. What aspect is missing from your offering that would devastate your clients if they lost it? – Unknown

Questions sometimes spawn more questions. This one has me wondering “How does that provoke your thinking about your products and services?” and “How does it change how you talk about what you offer?” I wonder what your clients would say and whether it would be different from what you’re thinking.

What one number, if changed, would dramatically improve your business in the next year – excluding increased sales? – Tim Francis

If your spouse had a heart attack or was in a car accident or similar and you had to care for them for two months, how would your business’ needs be attended to? How would the business bills get paid? Who would supervise current projects? Who would sell and organize the next new project and get it moving? – The Rescue Interview

Some questions also make you work, like Tim’s. It’s easy to say “we’ll sell more” to solve a problem, but sometimes you can’t solve it that way. Questions designed to help you reach a conclusion that should be obvious, but provoke taking a look at a situation from a different angle.

The questions I find most effective are the ones that make me defensive at first. When a question finds your accomplishment, expertise, ability, motivation, and capabilities leaving something to be desired, it’s natural to be defensive at first – and it’s a good indication that you needed to hear it.

What do you *really* want?

This is one of my favorites because it gets people to discuss what they really want. It has nothing to do with the details of what you’re selling and goes straight to the person’s big picture needs. The answer seldom comes back reflecting the bullet points from your proposal or items on your invoice.

If we were getting together a year from today, what would have to happen during that year, looking back on it, for you to feel satisfied with your progress? – Dan Sullivan

More than a question

Not everything has to be a question. Sometimes a simple comment can change how you do things even if it isn’t stated in the form of a question. A couple of my favorites:

Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say. – Andy Stanley

The day that the business doesn’t need you day to day is the day that you own a business.  Until then, you run a business. – Bryan Miles

Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter,or email him at [email protected].

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