“If I had 1 hour to solve a problem that my life depended on, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining what the question is. For once I know the question it will take me five minutes to solve the problem.” – Albert Einstein
At Michigan State, one of my favorite engineering professors, Dr. Francis X. McKelvey, once said to me as I grappled with a problem…. “Gabriel, I can help you solve your problem. But what’s the question? Are you bright enough to ask me the right one? You see it’s not easy coming up with a question. A question that will inspire unpredictable answers and provoke you into thinking thoughts you normally might not have!” I remember thinking to myself “WOW!”
Early in my career, I was perceived as being not too bright and also lazy! Let me explain. Remembering what Dr. McKelvey said, I was very direct when asked for an immediate answer to a business problem. I would say I don’t know and argue that maybe we should spend our time figuring out the proper question instead of focusing on the answer (i.e. solution). I can still hear my boss say to me “WTF? Are you nuts?!”
I also took a cue from Albert Einstein, who said “If I had 1 hour to solve a problem that my life depended on, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining what the question is. For once I know the question it will take me five minutes to solve the problem.” Therefore, I would put my feet up on my desk, sit back and ponder.
This type of behavior was not perceived all that well in the action oriented, kick ass, ask questions later, and take no prisoners type of business environment I worked in! However my success in solving complex business problems using this method of analysis soon changed the earlier opinion my boss had of me.
Socrates (I trust you’ve heard of the Socratic Method), said “the unexamined life is not worth living” the same can be said about organizations and business. “The unexamined business is not worth running”
You see, business is all about creating, delivering and capturing value and then making the most appropriate context specific choices to do that. If you don’t take the time to examine your business situation and then ask the right questions, you are not truly at your optimum choice point – circumstances are dictating the choices, area of focus and direction you’re making – not critical thinking!
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”– Albert Einstein
So, if you do things the way you have always done them, think the way you have always thought, learn the way you have always learned, organize information the way you have always organized information, arrive at conclusions the way you have always arrived at conclusions – then “what can be new for you?”
About the Author:
Gabriel Najera is the president & founder of the Najera Consulting Group. Gabriel is a frequent speaker to organizations. And, is a highly sought after advisor to corporate and nonprofit executives looking to develop a strategic thinking mindset.
Gabriel is the author of the forthcoming book, Lessons From the Field: From Farmworker to Fortune 500 Consultant. Gabriel is available to speak to your organization. To inquire about scheduling Gabriel for an upcoming speaking engagement or to inquire about our consulting services, please click on this link.