Why is it important?
Are the answers more important than the questions? Yes, if we lived in a stable environment. But as humans, we like to explore and a fundamental pillar of exploration is questioning. The world around us is changing and businesses are also changing rapidly. As decision-makers struggle to understand such a world, they need help and one way to help business decision-makers directly is by asking better questions! Additionally, with the advent of easily accessible information and transparency, the present and future pose a threat to the value of expert knowledge. This means that one way for businesses to stay relevant is to help the organization ask different types of questions than in the past.
Inquiring, Thinking, and Better Questions
There are a few key principles that I believe define a healthy inquiring mind. The first is Intention, that is the question need to be of good intention. A question can be ‘bad’ for a number of reasons: it could be irrelevant to the situation, it could be based on faulty premises, it could be loaded with cognitive biases, logical fallacies, or other irrational patterns of thinking. The second is the effectiveness of the question and this is all about impact. The third is the change the question can bring about. An effective question sets the wheels in motion for possible change. Lastly, Fairness: It’s not about who, it’s about focusing on what and how.
When it all sounds so simple, then why is it like that? that hard?
Due to Inefficiency in service delivery of messages in the past. For example, when too much time has been spent doing the basics in a suboptimal data/system/process environment. Another is due to the historical development of finance and finance professionals. At its core, the accounting profession has compliance and control, and this lends itself to conventionality rather than the creativity required for a questioning mindset.
Furthermore, distraction can be another reason. In a world that demands more and more “agility” and “flexibility” and with so much information around us, it’s difficult to focus on relevant issues in a disciplined manner. However, I think the most important factor is organizational. Questions, no matter how neutral, cause discomfort.
How do you manage these risks?
First, technical improvements will help to drastically reduce the time it takes to generate information, creating opportunities and challenges that can better define quality. Second, a greater focus on management accounting and decision science as part of the skillset will help create talented messages roles that are more predisposed to an inquiring mindset. Third, allow the idea of exploration into question formation enough time to shift the balance and improve the quality of questions. And to create an environment where creativity is stimulated.
And lastly, Organizational resilience, the rapid pace of disruption, changing consumer behavior and digitalization will only reinforce the need for businesses to build cultures that are more receptive, risk-taking, and learning and adapting. All elements of an environment in which a questioning mentality can be encouraged.
Change is inevitable. And a change process, a story, always begins with a question. It starts with the desire and the willingness to do it. However, the right mindset alone is not enough. The organizational environment needs to help this mindset thrive.