How to solve any problem in 20 mins – The Value of Extreme Questioning

Quick Background:

I learned about the Extreme Questioning process from Liz Wiseman (author of Multipliers) at her one day workshop at the Growth Summit. Obviously I’m a big fan – this is my 3rd blog post on this book! Here’s no.1 + no.2.

[side note: everytime I say Extreme Questioning, I feel like there should be a dramatic voice over!]

In the workshop which Adam and I both attended, Liz organised a 5 minute exercise to get us in the groove of relentless questioning – one of the top traits of all great leaders from her book. We picked an issue then chose roles. Adam asked the questions first, and I answered, then we switched it over.

I was excited! Even in 5 minutes, I had a much clearer idea of the problem we’d been discussing. I made a mental note to use it in the future if I was stuck on a problem. Sure enough…

So yesterday, this was my problem:

In late January, we decided to significantly change our hosting arrangement. Since then, Sam (a web strategy advisor and our resident hosting guru) and I have been furiously gathering information from our supplier about everything from hosting packages and the steps involved in the transition, all the way through to common mistakes and pitfalls of the process.

After 4 weeks of examining the problem from all angles, I still felt daunted and overwhelmed by project. I had all the background info I needed, but couldn’t quite bring it together into a project plan.

My problem was my opportunity, so I grabbed Ads and asked him if we could use Extreme Questioning to help me get some clarity.

How to do Extreme Questioning:

There are 2 roles:

  1. The Questioner – they don’t have to be knowledgeable of the issue. In this case it was Adam – he knew about the plan but not the details.
  2. The Answerer  – they need to have been immersed in the data. This was me. I’d been doing the research along with Sam.

The process:

  1. Questioner: Ask every question you can dream up around the topic until you can’t think of any more – how, when, where, why, what, who, which (example questions below in +++ section). Only ask questions.
  2. Answerer: Respond in as much detail as you possibly can to every question.
  3. Answerer: Take loads of notes as you go. (Preferably find a scribe to join in)
  4. Questioner: Once you’ve run out of questions, then ask the Answerer one more question: “Are there any other areas of this problem that you’d like me to ask you about?
  5. Repeat steps 1-3 as many times as necessary until the Answerer says “Ah-ha!”.

Total time:

22mins including note taking. (this would change depending on the problem you’re trying to solve)

[side note: OK, I definitely took liberties with the title of this post – good luck with World Peace in 20 mins!]

Result:

After 3 weeks of research and 1 week of trying to put a plan together, to be able to do this in 22 mins was an incredible result.

For me it wasn’t so much of an “Ah-ha” moment, but by the time Adam had finally run out of questions, I realised that I no longer felt daunted and the picture was much clearer in my  mind. I was able to immediately put together a step by step plan to show Sam, including the issues and responsibilities. I also had some great updates for the phone scripts we were going to use.

What helped me get the most out of it:

  1. Had all the information by doing thorough research
  2. Taking notes – lots of them

What would I do differently next time?

  1. Find a scribe!
  2. Do it much earlier in the planning process. I could have saved much more time doing this earlier rather than waiting for a 3 week research/1 week planning process. As it was, I’m happy to have shipped the plan!

Final thoughts: I will definitely be telling staff about this. Provided it’s done so the Answerer is open to it (and so they don’t feel like it’s an interrogation!), it will massively shortcut problem solving.

As always, please let me know if it works (or doesn’t) for you in the comments.

++++++++

Some sample questions (there are obviously a stack of questions you can use, the key point is to keep asking!):

  1. Why are you doing this? Why is that important?
  2. Which options have you assessed?
  3. Who is involved in this process?
  4. Who needs to be informed?
  5. How does it impact you? How does it impact others?
  6. How will it make things better? For you? For others?
  7. What might go wrong? For you? For others?
  8. What are the steps to getting this done? What has to happen first? What has to happen last? Why?
  9. When is your deadline to accomplish this?
  10. What might stop you from achieving it by that date?
  11. What further information do you need?
  12. Where will you store the information?
  13. …?

+++++++

Implementing Role Practice – A 24 second Why to and How to Guide for Business

A friend of mine asked me a question the other day:

What are the most important things you’ve implemented in your business?

It got me thinking…

So I’m starting a series of posts to answer the question. For the time being, I won’t put an order of importance on them but that might come later. This is the first.

Implementation Series – Post #1 – Role Practice

24 second summary:

Why to:

At a MINIMUM, Role Practice helps you and your staff improve: confidence in challenging situations, consistency in approach & knowledge sharing.

How to:

  1. Choose 3 people to play three roles: Salesperson, prospect, observer
  2. Choose a scenario and act it out (change roles/scenarios regularly)
  3. Everyone gives feedback on performance
  4. Practice 15 – 30 mins daily
  5. Apply it to all aspects of your business: customer service, HR, networking etc.

Resources:

Bluewire Media – Scenarios for Role Practice (PDF 100KB)

Details:

Jack Daly
Jack Daly

The back story:

“Role practice” sounds a bit funny because it’s a mixture of words.

Role play + practice = role practice.

Adam and I were introduced to the concept at a seminar by Jack Daly – a sales coach from the US. The idea behind role practice rather than role play, is to get better each and every time. All skills require practice to get improvements and that was why Jack distinguished the two.

You can check 2 quick video interviews with Jack on our Bluewire Media blog: 4 gigs from facebook; #1 sales tip.

[Aside: I liked the “game” of his tagline: “If you think you know sales, you haven’t met Jack!”]

Chet Holmes – another sales guru – was really big on it in his book too: The Ultimate Sales Machine.

What is Role Practice?

It’s a group exercise to practice sales, customer service, HR or any other situations that you and your staff have to face.

How to run a Role Practice session:

I’ll use sales as an example.

Firstly pick a group of 3 people (2 is sufficient though) to participate in the following roles:

  1. Sales person
  2. Prospect
  3. Observer – to offer feedback to person 1. Often they learn the most from a session.

(If you only have 2 people, then the “Prospect” can also act as the “Observer”. If you have 4 people, you can have 2 Observers.)

Then choose a topic (eg initial consultation, sales phone call etc) and everyone plays their part.

Over time, you can throw as many curve balls as you like to increase the difficulty of the scenario.

Learning:

The best way to evaluate is to ask the sales person to assess their own performance based on 3 questions:

  • What do you think you did well?
  • What do you think could be improved?
  • What do you think you’d do differently next time?

Then ask the Prospect and Observer roles for their feedback based on these questions too.

How can you implement this?

Here’s how we did it:

  1. Made a Bluewire Media – Scenarios for Role Practice (PDF 100KB) that we need to practice and stuck it on the office wall.
  2. Choose 1 topic each Monday at our Weekly Meeting.
  3. Role practice daily from Tuesday – Friday (15 – 30 mins after our 9:05am Daily Huddle).

[Aside: The 9:05am Daily Huddle and Weekly Meeting routines is an idea from Verne Harnish – I’ll definitely be covering this in a later post in this series]

I’d also really recommend applying this not only to your sales process but to your customer service process – or in fact any other part of your business where staff face difficult situations.

We’ve applied it to:

  • Answering angry phone calls from clients
  • Sales calls
  • Initial consultations
  • Chairing meetings (slight tweak – we ask the questions after they have chaired an internal meeting – eg the Weekly)
  • Networking at a Bluewire Media event
  • Lots of others: see full list

Results:

  1. Massive confidence boost for all of us in situations we find challenging (which will be different for each person)
  2. Consistency in approach to customer service
  3. Knowledge sharing among staff for best practice

My favourite part? It’s simple to start.

1 VERY simple way to get MUCH more out of your day

One of the things I love doing with Bluewire Media is helping others get the best out of themselves and getting the best for themselves. (I strongly believe you can’t do one without the other). I’m sure this is why I enjoyed the Native Genius session so much.

But how can you get the best out of others, if you can’t get the best out of yourself?

This is why I’ve become fascinated by Tim Ferriss – New York Times #1 best selling author of The 4 Hour Work Week which I read and loved. (His latest book which I haven’t read is The 4 Hour Body.)

The 4 Hour Work Week title is a bit misleading. At the end of the day it’s not about only doing 4 hours of work per week and doing nothing else. It’s about doing 4 hours of “work” (the stuff you don’t really like that much) per week and dedicating the rest of your time, energy and focus to those things that you love doing, that drive/challenge you, that make you leap out of bed each day.

I would highly recommend reading this book – it is literally a game changer. [Or try the articles on his blog]

In the meantime, here is 1 small, immediately actionable task from the book I’ve put in place that has dramatically changed my days:

Everyday, set only 2 priorities for the next day before you leave work or go to bed.

These are the 2 most important things you want to get done, not necessarily the most urgent and certainly not an entire to do list (although you can keep one elsewhere). The key here though is to do it before you leave work or before you go to bed. This means you’ll wake up with a sense of purpose and clarity about your day. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me.

Try it and let me know how you go. I’ll be very interested to hear.