This month’s book is Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change by Frank Sesno.
About the Book:
In practical terms, this book is a guide to effective inquiry. What are the best questions to ask given the situation? How do we find out what we need to know? Reading this as a process improvement practitioner, I was looking for that guidance. I found lots of it, but I also found the book to be a profoundly moving exploration of what it means to be a good human being. Asking more requires listening more – and that’s key.
Change Management is a necessary part of introducing efficiency and effectiveness into the workplace but it is often an afterthought. “Soft Skills” get separated and treated as lightweight. We spend a lot of time collecting data about how long it takes to do what we do. We dig into our systems to uncover root causes. We create Pareto Charts to figure out the biggest source of problems and those are all worthy pursuits. That’s the work of Lean Six Sigma, but how often does all this effort go to waste when it comes to getting human beings to do what we want them to do? Have you ever had a colleague who refused to embrace process improvements even though you just showed them all the data proving it’s the best thing to do?
What if asking the right questions, before sharing the right data, made the difference between acceptance of a process change and benign inaction? How often have we assumed the burden of solving process problems by ourselves when others could have helped us? Mr. Sesno points out, “asking people to solve a problem or come up with a new idea turns the responsibility over to them. It says, ‘you’re smart, you know what you’re doing – what would you do about this problem?’” It also engages others and invites them to join us.
This book is not solely dedicated to problem solving. Mr. Sesno considers questions from a broad range of fields. He’s a reporter so he’s often asking confrontational questions to get people to acknowledge wrong-doings for the record. Some questions are for military strategists, job interviewers or doctors. One of the most moving chapters was on questions to ask an aging parent about what mattered in their life and what words of wisdom they’d like to impart to loved ones. I took a lot of notes about those questions.
This book offers truly helpful questions and Lean Six Sigma practitioners should take notice. Some of them are familiar, “What’s wrong? How do we know?” but the ones I appreciated touched the short-changed realm of empathy. A nice catch phrase from professor Ellen Ries of Harvard Medical School about this line of questioning is “Perspective Taking.” That is exactly what should happen during Voice of the Customer Interviews or Process Walks. There’s even questions without question marks, “Tell me more. Explain that to me.” Those are wonderfully open-ended and generally result in unexpected gems.
In the making of his book, Mr. Sesno talked to lots of famous people: Anderson Cooper, Colin Powell, Sandra Day O’Connor. They all have keen observations. I especially liked Diana Oreck’s (of vacuum family fame) about listening, “We have a ratio: two ears and one mouth.” Exactly! Mr. Sesno also includes lots of us average human beings with equally helpful lines of inquiry.
There’s much to apply to the world of Lean Six Sigma; problem solving questions, creativity questions, strategic questions, mission questions. He even provides a Question Guide at the back of the book. I got a lot more out of this book than I bargained for and I highly recommend it to anyone trying to work with other human beings to “fix what bugs you.”
Practical Tools and Concepts Covered:
- Problem solving, diagnostic and “bridging” questions (Analyze Phase)
- Empathy questions for Stakeholder Analysis (Define Phase)
- Brainstorming creativity questions (Improve Phase)
- Project Purpose or mission questions (Define Phase)
- Testing or scientific questions (Analyze Phase)
Who Should Read Ask More?
- Lean Six Sigma Project Management Office members
- Process Improvement Practitioners
- Yellow Belts, Green Belts and Black Belts
- Lean Transformation practitioners
From the Page:
“Questions are our way to connect with other human beings. I believe that inquiry, not imitation, is the sincerest form of flattery. Ask a good question and you convey interest. Slow down, listen closely, and ask more and you engage at a deeper level. You show you care. You generate trust. You empathize and you bridge differences. You become a better friend, colleague, innovator, citizen, leader, or family member. You shape the future. You can’t ask for more than that.”