An Inquiry on Inquiry: Listening Past the Answer January 19, 2006Posted by Yvonne in Dynamics of Resistance, Frameworks and Focus, Power of Dialogue.
Last night I was on the phone with a couple colleagues; we needed to prep for an upcoming meeting with a larger team. Our subteam lead couldn’t get on the call so we hung out for a bit, looked at the (really) brief notes he’d emailed just prior to the call and said: “Well, he’s on his own.” We signed off and sent an email to him to call us individually if he still needed time with us as ponder partners.
About half hour later, he called me, and we got into the subject.
A little bit of background: The chicken scratchings he’d sent were the result of over two months worth of a few folks’ work. To tell the truth, it didn’t look like it amounted to much. I kid you not: three lines on a page, about 5 words each. Not a lot to be inspired about and, going into a two day meeting, no surprise it left us wondering how the heck we’d be using our time.
Having worked for about a year on another related piece and gotten that one rolling really well, this was the second thread we’d just begun pulling, and the sweater hadn’t quite unravelled as yet. We were at the beginning again, only a few of us had engaged with the new ideas, just scratching the surface really, and although we were using a similar technology as we did for the past year’s work …
… since the results so far looked nothing like what we had seen before, we thought we had nothing.
But it was time to report, and we had a meeting to prepare.
So we just hung out, facing that reality … and then started asking ourselves questions like:
- What the heck is this that we’ve done here?
- Given the larger effort we’re engaged in, how could it be that what we’ve got is actually useful?
- If this were the right place to be, what would be interesting to see?
- Where could we go from here?
And that led to a whole ‘nother place. We suddenly got interested in what had us engaged in the way that we were engaged. We suddenly got curious about the way we were working and the place we had gotten to.
The shift was in the focus of our concern. Last year, the work was about stuff that needed to be created to satisfy the client organization’s needs: job descriptions, procedures and policies – all that stuff of the work-a-day world. But this new inquiry was something else completely.
We didn’t have something for the team to “review”; we had stumbled upon a new place of inquiry.
Not knowing quite what it was, all we knew was that it was something about how we were working and something about what that way of working provided, some extension or expansion of what was possible to consider as the source or cause of innovation. Something about the way the technology we were working inside of worked on us, and the kind of results that were possible because of that.
That’s when we saw:
What we have here is perhaps a very different something.
We were both at once energized and expectant about what the team would be able to do, pulling and pushing on these strange little notions, 3 lines, 5 words each, that minutes before had seemed totally worthless and insufficient. Suddenly, it was possible that this was in fact the exact right place to start a new exploration, and since the subteam was at a place of “this doesn’t seem like much”, the timing was in fact perfect to do so with the larger team.
With that realization, we could start crafting the environment for the new inquiry, designing conversations and questions that would open the subject out to discover other perspectives on where the work could go from there. After only 35 minutes, my colleague ended the call saying, “This has been helpful. I know what I can do with this.”
Lessons Learned: A couple of things came out of this …
- At the place of “It ain’t much” or This is worthless, keep listening. The next inquiry may be right there waiting for you.
- What seems like nothing may be only a very different something.
Future Potential Inquiries: Powerful Questions at the Point of Blindness, Despair, Boredom, and Distraction; Small Team/Large Team Timing; Interaction for Innovation