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Posted: April 28, 2011

Ask a good question today

The question can be more important than the answer

Todd Ordal

Isidor Rabi, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, credited his mother for his interest in science. He described that while other children's parents would ask them what they learned when they came home from school, his mother would ask, "Izzy, did you ask a good question today?"

Someone recently asked me, "Do you think we'd be more successful in market A or market B?" Obviously, I didn't answer with either one. Rather, I asked him five questions:

1. What led you to those two markets?
2. Why do you believe you can prosper in either of those markets?
3. What core competency will you use in those segments?
4. What's the profit potential in those markets?
5. Why are those segments more attractive than exploiting your existing market?

I'm sure you can think of a few more questions, but you get the picture. Sometimes our rush to find an answer doesn't serve us well, particularly when trying to identify business strategy - which I'll define as "how you'll prosper in your environment for some period." Thinking about the "what" (strategy) is much more foreign to most of us than the "how" (tactics).

Most business leaders get to their leadership position by being good at tactics and fighting fires. They're promoted to CEO or GM and suddenly are supposed to be good at strategic thinking. What intervention is available to them to allow competency in strategic thinking? When push comes to shove, most will revert to tactics when required to change or reinvigorate strategy.

Tactics without strategy is like flying without a flight plan. It might be fun, but where are you going? To identify strategy, you must ask many questions. At the end of each of your workdays, perhaps you should reflect on what Isidor's mother asked: "Did you ask a good question today?"

Next time you are faced with a problem an opportunity or a decision, ask yourself, "What other questions might be important?" I think that you'll be surprised that the quality of the output is much better when you slow the game down and focus on the quality of the questions before you look for answers.

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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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