Hal Gregersen, Senior Affiliate Professor of Innovation and Leadership at INSEAD
Hal Gregersen issues a challenge:
“What if you spent a third of your work week paying attention to new possibilities? What if you took an intellectual step back to uncover what growth opportunities you might find? What would you do next? Are you always keeping your eyes open, looking left and right to see what’s there?”
That’s how Hal Gregersen previewed his talk to us recently.
He said companies should never take disruptive initiatives for granted. “It’s a work as you go privilege. The moment you take it for granted, it’s over.” Rapid, constant change moves faster every day. “The faster things move, the quicker old answers become outdated and the more we need to find new solutions.”
As he wrote in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) this July, “Innovation is not purely genetic. It is a set of skills, or behaviours, which can be learned, cultivated and applied. These principles are important in overcoming critical challenges and delivering extraordinary value.”
At the PEO retreat, Gregersen will tell us how “For almost twenty years, I have refined a systematic approach to uncovering the right questions—those that start to unlock entirely different solutions and perspectives.”
His method incorporates five simple, unconventional steps to creatively solve significant problems both in personal and professional lives:
Step 1: Find a white board or flip chart where your team can do its question-centric work (standing up seems to jumpstart better questions than sitting down). Step back for a brief moment, take a deep breath, and try your best to check your assumptions at the door. Question-centric leaders like Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay, consistently work at “wiping the mental slate clean,” tackling a problem with fresh eyes through fresh questions.
Step 2: Pick a problem that your team cares about intellectually and emotionally. Engaging both the head and the heart matter—if your team doesn’t care, the next steps will undoubtedly stall. Also, double check to make sure that the problem (or opportunity, for the optimists of the world) is one that you honestly don’t have an answer to.
Step 3: As disruptive innovators, from Albert Einstein to Twitter’s Jack Dorsey put it, “Question everything!” Engage in pure question talk around the problem, with one team member writing down each question verbatim. This gives everyone the chance (especially introverts) to see each question, reflect a bit, and then create even better ones. Don’t give preambles to the questions and don’t devote any time or energy to answering them. Just ask. Ask as many questions as you can. Go for at least 50, perhaps 75. It usually takes 10 to 20 minutes to exhaust a group’s questioning capacity.
Step 4: Step back and decide which questions on your list seem most “catalytic,” or which ones hold the most potential for disrupting the status quo. Focus on a few questions that your team honestly can’t answer but is ready and willing to investigate. Winnow your questions down to three or four that truly matter.
Step 5: Get to work! Find some answers. Questions alone might be clever but they rarely produce positive impacts. If you prefer observing the world to get answers, go out and make some systematic observations. If you love to network for new ideas, go talk to people who don’t think or act like you (e.g. those from a different industry or country-of-origin) to get diverse responses to the questions. If you get new ideas by experimenting, go to work with a series of rapid prototypes—fast, cheap, virtual experiments to get instant feedback about which potential solutions matter most.
Becoming a question catalyst
At Gregersen’s recent World Economic Forum workshop, this five-step Catalytic Questioning process took 24 minutes. It rapidly engaged the group, turbocharged a subsequent brainstorming and helped identify several intriguing new areas of potential industry disruption. This can happen to you too at our PEO retreat.
Gregersen understands that the bigger a company becomes, the greater the danger of it becoming complacent. “Award systems find a path to follow, financial systems go that path and even customers, to some degree, go that path,” he told us. He recognizes that customers say “they want innovation but they like consistency.” Companies often take the path of least resistance, continuing to do what they always have – and many do so exceptionally well. “But in today’s fast paced world, exceptional work just isn’t enough.”
“Blackberry didn’t pay attention to the signals that the business model was fraying,” he told us. “Really smart people developed incredible work but somehow weren’t connected enough to where their customer base was going.”
“Blackberry was Canada’s gemstone that has done inconceivably good work, including making substantial investments into the educational sphere. In spite of this, it fell behind the curve – and look where it is now.”
Hal and his wife live in Boston and Paris where he pursues a lifelong avocation, photography, and is a sculptor and painter, as part of a global community of social entrepreneurs dedicated to creating positive change through the arts.
“When I look into the eyes of my grandchildren,” he says. “I see pure wonder reflecting back: They’re hungry with curiosity about the world around them, unafraid to explore, and eager to discover something new each day. The gift of inquisitive creativity is something we were all born with – and something I believe we can sustain – by the simple act of questioning. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to this core questioning philosophy which I’ll share with you at the PEO conference.”
Don’t miss this inspirational opportunity to learn how to kick start innovation.