Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men a creative power, which if it were available in waking, would make every man a Dante or Shakespeare.

Frederick Henry Hedge

The Idea:  There’s a famous study conducted by a Dr. Biasiotto, from the University of Chicago, which sought to determine the influence of visualization on his subjects’ basketball performance.  He split people into three groups and tested their free throw percentage improvement based on their conditioning. One group practiced free throws; one group visualized themselves shooting free throws; the last group did nothing.  The results are staggering: while those who did nothing predictably did not improve, the group that visualized their free throws increased their performance by twenty-three percent – only one percentage point below those who were able to practice their free throws.

This visualization technique changes your vantage point, allowing you to enter a mental space where you can train yourself prior to a life-altering experience.  Your mental conditioning has a clear impact on future outcomes.  Is this your worldview?

Asking questions with an open mind has the same transformative effects as the group of people who visualized their free throws. A question forces us to enter a space where we empathize, objectively analyze things, and reassess our knowledge of the topic.  The perfect question unlocks doors to problems that seemingly have been locked for ages.

We spend large parts of our life looking for answers, but questions are where the power lies.  As author Frank Sesno challenges us in his article on the topic:

Good leaders are adept at asking strategic questions.  Strategic questions zoom out and look at the big picture. They ask about long-term goals, interests, and priorities. They consider alternatives, consequences, and downsides. They sharpen the focus on the larger objective and clarify what it will take to get there.”

Questions transform discussions, uncover new ideas, and challenge norms.  A perfect question is not a tool of manipulation; rather, a tool to uncover truth.

Questions are invaluable to creating healthy strategy.  It’s difficult to understand new threats, emerging trends, or risks that are bubbling up on the fringe.   Power, politics, and fear keep new information pushed down in organizations.  It is not easily exposed or accessible.  The perfect question allows new ideas to rise.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Bursting the CEO Bubble,” Hal Gregersen reminds us of the power of questions.  Gregersen writes that Walt Bettinger, CEO at Charles Schwab constantly confronts everyone in his organization with one question: “If you were in my job, what would you be focusing on?”

Gregerson shares “He makes a point of telling employees that his biggest personal challenge is isolation and asks for their help. To ensure that the people he manages aren’t withholding or sugarcoating information, Bettinger requires them to write what he calls ‘brutally honest reports’ twice a month, offering observations in five areas, including “’what’s broken?’”

Change occurs when personal experiences intersect with honesty in a safe environment.  The right question, delivered in a safe and honest environment, is a perfect moment for potential change to occur.   

Bettinger is excellent at breaking the addiction of certainty.  Each day he breaks this addiction asking himself one powerful question: “How many things am I dead wrong about?”

How often do you listen (more than you speak), allowing others to share difficult information with you?

The right question can change everything.