Can We Move Faster By Asking Different Questions?

Can We Move Faster By Asking Different Questions?

Photo: Accell Group

Many of us find ourselves in conversations every day about “what’s wrong.” But, what if we changed our questions? Instead of focusing on “what’s wrong,” what would happen if we adopted a mindset that we are fully capable and have the capacity right now to achieve the future we all want?

This isn’t an avoidance strategy. Asking the hard questions and having meaningful conversations about the realities in front of us are important. Raising awareness of areas where we can do better is completely necessary. As an example, Camber Outdoors has been doing this for the past five years and will continue to shine a light on equity as a pathway for company- and industries-wide success and sustainability. The vision of Everyone’s Outdoors requires a vibrant outdoor economy, and that can only happen with a thriving, diverse community within the active-outdoor industries.

Scholars like Martin Seligman pointed out to his colleagues that modern research has revealed hundreds of previously undiscovered mental illnesses. The point: you find what you’re looking for. He, therefore, challenged his colleagues to start focusing on “what’s right” with people. In order to do that, researchers needed to ask different questions, like “What do people need in order to thrive?” The field of positive psychology was born, and now the business world understands how resilience, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, high-stress workplaces, toxic bosses, impact results.

Around the same time, Professor David Cooperrider was gaining traction on a new change management theory called Appreciative Inquiry. He believes that when institutions ask different questions, they can achieve their desired future much faster. He also believes that organizations contain plenty of examples of when things work very well, but we rarely pay attention to them. In fact, as professionals, we are trained to notice and act on “what’s wrong,” “what’s not working,” or “why we’re failing.” Asking those deficit-based questions, he argues, will only get an institution back to zero and will shortchange innovation in the process. Instead, asking “generative” questions helps reframe responses toward what’s possible rather than what’s been impossible.

For example, when a state-of-the-art terminal built for British Airways (BA) at Heathrow Airport opened with great fanfare, it turned out to be a disaster for customers. The baggage handling system was severely flawed and the result was long delays, piles of suitcases, frustrated travelers, and lost revenue for the airline. To solve this problem, BA took an appreciative approach. They brought together baggage handlers, ticket agents, flight attendants, mechanics as well as customers, taxi drivers, and other airport employees together and asked, “How might we create an outstanding customer arrival experience?”

The results were profound. By bringing together a variety of stakeholders and reframing the “problem,” the group was able to come up with dozens of ways BA could enhance the travel experience beyond simply “fixing” the baggage system. They suggested better lighting and signage, as well as better technology to communicate baggage status. Their recommendations also helped engineers reconfigure the baggage handling system to be more efficient in delivering a coordinated, signature arrival experience for travelers. Complaints – once overwhelming – evaporated, and BA’s reputation quickly rebounded with increased profits, producing a much better outcome than if they had simply “fixed” the presenting problem.

By reframing the mindset from problem-solving to lifting up success stories, the active-outdoor industries will collectively accelerate workplace equity and inclusion from a possibilities perspective. Through continued conversations around “what works,” and by bringing together individuals with diverse experiences and ideas, the active-outdoor industries can take necessary steps to realize a future that’s welcoming for all.

Formerly the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition (OIWC)


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