Are you asking too many questions?

February 27, 2010 at 9:01 am 2 comments

This is a difficult question for a business coach to ask. We’re all about asking the right questions at the right time. But the following, from a blog post on the Harvard Business Review website, got me thinking.

I had an epiphany recently. The setting: a multi-billion dollar global giant. The topic of discussion: innovation. My epiphany: A simple two-word phrase that can hamstring innovation. What about…

I was helping a cross-functional group review a few ideas to create new growth businesses. Like many early-stage propositions, the ideas blended intriguing potential with high degrees of uncertainty. About 15 minutes into the review, the questions began to come in.

  • What about the competitive landscape?
  • Can we model the impact of someone entering the space early?
  • What about the market size?
  • Are we sure these numbers are right?”
  • What about the regulatory regime.
  • Are these timelines really realistic?

They were important questions, and robust answers would help bring each opportunity into sharper focus. And the group's intentions were good — figure out which opportunity was the most attractive so that the company could direct its resources appropriately.

The problem, though, is what follows “What about…” questions. The next step from almost any discussion like this one is to conduct further research. And, “What about…” questions never stop. Each answer generates questions whose answers lead to further questions. It could become infinite…

via How to Kill Innovation: Keep Asking Questions – Scott Anthony – Harvard Business Review.

A few months ago, I was invited to sit in with a group of business and government people (mostly government) who had been working on the idea of starting a business incubator for seven years. They had hired consultants, reviewed studies, talked to people who run successful incubators, asked a million “What if…” questions. But they hadn’t drawn a line in the sand and made a commitment to proceed.

After listening to their conversation for awhile, I made the following observation based on my work with hundreds of startups: “Entrepreneurs start a business because they don’t know it can’t be done. In their hearts, they know it has to be done.

I don’t think they understood what I was trying to say, but they shelved the project a few months later. They were smart people with good hearts, but they weren’t entrepreneurs. They didn’t know it had to be done.

Entry filed under: strategic planning.

Nancy Duarte: How to practice smart ‘slide-ology’. Old media vs. new media.

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Paul Simister  |  March 1, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Excellent and thought provoking article.

    Analysis paralysis and procrastination are two of the biggest blocks to making progress and taking profitable action.

    They often go had in hand.

    If you’re not sure about doing something, you will procrastinate, look for excuses and unanswered questions are way to create delays.

    We need a balance.

    Perhaps we have two sticky notes on our PC – one says “what if” to encourage thoughtful consideration and the other borrows from Nike “Just do it!”


  • 2. rkenneth  |  April 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm




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