Asking the Right Questions

As you go about your day to day activities, are you asking the right questions?

For example: Do you love what you do? That question has a lot more relevance today than ever before. People who love what they do are the ones that are doing the best work, being the most productive and making the greatest impact.

With a properly-framed question, finding a worthwhile answer becomes almost straightforward. And when you’re honest with your answers, you can begin the process of making the necessary changes that will impact you both personally and professionally.

In today’s society, we are trained to be solution-finders. In our careers, we are judged by the solutions that we propose, not the questions that we ask. Very often, in many areas of life, we are defined by the solutions we come up with rather than finding the best problems to tackle. Meanwhile, in order to get to the best solutions, we often overlook that asking the right questions in a systematic fashion is really the best way to get to a worthwhile solution.

How do you ask the right questions? Good questions are clear, even if they are broad. They have to be linked to an objective, the challenges posed by current approaches, the decision criteria, and the obstacles to adopting new solutions. Your questions will also depend on the complexity of the issue. Some will be simple, others will require that you delve a bit deeper into the issue.

Be introspective and proactive in managing your career and your life. It’s an effective personal and professional development strategy and it’s how powerful reputations are built. Of course, detailed questions are never as exciting as answers, but they are the starting point for asking the right questions that will in turn lead you to productive answers.

How much are your services worth?

I’m reminded of this story someone shared with me a few years ago:

A French woman, upon seeing Picasso in a Parisian restaurant, approached the great master and insisted that he put down his coffee and make a quick sketch of her. Graciously, Picasso obliged. When he was done, she took the drawing, put it in her handbag, and then pulled out her billfold.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked.

“$5,000,” was Picasso’s reply.

“$5,000? But it took you only three minutes!” she exclaimed.

“No,” Picasso answered. “It took me all my life.”

This short story informs us that there’s value inherent in what we have to offer to the world. Whatever you’ve done up to this point in your life, has either enhanced your skills, improved your marketability and increased your value or held you back from achieving your goals. Think about what your services are worth and plan, deliver and execute accordingly.

The Pygmalion Effect in Management

Successful managers have high expectations, both of themselves and their team. These expectations are powerful, because they’re the frames in which people fit reality. We often see what we expect, rather than what is actually occurring.

Social psychologists have referred to this as the self-fulfilling prophecy or the Pygmalion effect. In Greek mythology, the sculptor Pygmalion carved a statue of a beautiful woman, fell in love with the statue and brought it to life by the strength of his perceptions. Many managers play Pygmalion-like roles in developing people. Research on the phenomenon of self fulfilling prophecies provides ample evidence that people act in ways that are consistent with our expectations of them. If a manager expects a subordinate to fail, they probably will.

Organization builders have their strongest and most powerful influence in times of economic uncertainty and turbulence. When accepted ways of doing things aren’t working well enough, a manager’s strong expectation about the destination, the processes to follow and the capabilities of the team serve as a driving force that gets the team moving in a positive direction.

In addition, great managers tend to not give up on people, because doing so means giving up on themselves, their judgment, and their ability to get the best out of others. When I ask people to describe exemplary managers, they consistently talk about those that were able to bring out the best in them. To have your team’s best interest in mind and doing what is necessary to help them develop the drive and motivation to be successful; that is one of the defining characteristics of a great manager.

Recognizing Opportunity in the Entrepreneurial Process

At the heart of any entrepreneurial process is opportunity. Successful business people and investors know that a good idea is not necessarily a good opportunity. In fact, for every 100 ideas presented to investors in the form of a business plan or proposal, usually only 2 or 3 ever get funded. Over 80 percent of those rejections occur in the first few minutes; another 10 to 15 percent occur after investors have read the business plan and proposal carefully. Fewer than 10 percent attract enough attention to merit further consideration and investigation.

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to develop the ability to quickly evaluate whether serious potential exists in a business opportunity and decide how much time, effort and value to invest.

Here is a quick summary of what to initially look for when determining if a business venture is a good opportunity:

Market demand is a key ingredient in measuring opportunity

  • Does market share and growth equal 20 percent of annual growth
  • Is the customer reachable

Market structure and size

  • is the market emerging or fragmented
  • What is the revenue potential based on existing market share

Margin analysis helps differentiate an opportunity for an idea

  • Capital requirement vs the competition
  • Can we break even in 1 to 2 years?

Consider the underlying market demands as well as the value added properties of the product of service. Also up for careful scrutiny is whether the market size allows for a 20 percent or more growth potential; the economics of the business, solid gross margins (40 percent or more) and the free cash flow characteristics.

The business need not be operating perfectly. In fact, if there are some inconsistencies in existing service, some gaps in information and knowledge those can also be considered as potential to create opportunity and drive value. In the final analysis, there are many factors which when combined, will paint the total picture. But the basics as outlined above along with your professional experience and business acumen will help in bringing you to an appropriate conclusion.