Five questions for businesses to ask themselves during an interruption

Decades ago, my mentor said something to me that I have thought about nearly every day since then. “Ed, great consultants don’t concern themselves with having great answers. Great consultants concern themselves with having great questions.”

This two-sentence admonition guides my thinking to this very day. I have read books about great questions; created and delivered dozens, if not hundreds of presentations on the topic of great questions; and even written a few articles on great questions.

In thinking about how I can help during this crazy time, I came up with the idea of developing a set of questions that business owners can ask themselves during a business interruption. 

Before I share them with the reader, I want to talk about something very important that I learned, not from a book or presentation, but from my wife and genius Mom whom I am fortunate enough to have as a co-parent with me.

In the relatively rare cases where our kids (now 14 and 11) had emotional meltdowns as toddlers, she would pepper them with questions:

  • “Do want a drink or something to eat?”
  • “Do want milk or water?”
  • “Do you want it in a blue cup or a green cup?”
  • “Do you want to drink it in the kitchen or outside?”

This barrage of questions would sometime continue for a few minutes until the tantrum had subsided. Only later did I discover why this technique was so effective. 

We know that the part of the brain responsible for emotions is buried deep in our primitive lizard brain. When we get into this state of what some psychologists call emotional hijacking, our emotions feed our actions and those actions feed the emotions in a vicious cycle which usually only ends in exhaustion. 

More recently we have discovered that the only part of our brain that can answer questions is located in our newly developed (at least from the point of evolutionary time) fully-human neocortex. Bombarding a child with questions effectively forces a reengagement with this part of the brain bringing the emotional hijacking to swifter conclusion.

The same is true for adults as well. In this time of anxiety asking ourselves new questions will help us lower our level of anxiety and increase our ability to think creatively. 

In the hope that thinking about these questions will both help your business, and help us all quell our collective anxiety about these times, I share them with you:

  • What opportunities to fix things about your business can you take advantage of during the interruption?
  • What have you learned about your business during the interruption that you didn’t know before?
  • If you could have done something before the interruption what would it have been?
  • As your business returns to normal what opportunities are there for you to better serve your customers?
  • What is the question, that if you had the answer, would allow you to more easily recover from the interruption?

Let me know what you think about these. What others might you add to this list?

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