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In this audio presentation, Elisabeth Swan and Tracy O’Rourke (both VPs of Content Development at focus on fun, new ways to engage your team and organization in learning and applying Lean Six Sigma concepts and tools. Click here for full event coverage of The 2015 ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference in Arizona.

The following is a transcript of this audio presentation:

Introduction to Socrates

First of all, a little nod to Socrates. A lot of us use and enjoy the Socratic Method and all we’re talking about is questions and the use of questions. How do questions play a part in learning and how do we have fun with it?

  • How do we learn?
  • How do you engage your audience?
  • How do we improve recall and retention?

Elisabeth is going to start…

Recently, a book came out called “How We Learn” by Benedict Carey. This book gives us a wealth of new information. Author Benedict Carey looks at a lot of research studies and for each one he takes and gives an application. Carey says we play with two aspects of our memory: recall and retention. Apparently, we are better at retention but how can be bring out the best of both? There are techniques we can use to help recall and retention that make sense and some of them, we are already do!

Will This Be On The Test?

As soon as someone hears the word “test,” there is a level of anxiety that is living and breathing in them. We are trying to constantly take that level of anxiety down and get people more comfortable with it. Carey says that the act of testing is actually improves retention and recall. The act of testing is simply retrieval practice and that’s what we have to get good at. Testing embeds the learning that has been done so far. Some testing techniques to help increase recall and retention are: 

    • Random Review. Randomize the retrieval practice so that people’s brains can move from one area of content to the next.
    • Level Of Difficulty. By increasing the level of difficulty, you are improving retention. Pushing people beyond their comfort zones will help with retention because they have to work harder.
    • Immediate Recall. Constantly test as you go. As information is given, ask what the information was that was just shared or taught.
    • Forgetting. If you feel like you’ve forgotten something, you will have to work really hard to remember it again. Letting time pass is helpful for retention.
    • Snooze You Win. It’s a break. The idea it to sleep on it. Studies show that testing the day after learning the material does better than testing the day of. Your brain is putting everything together.
    • Use It Or Lose It. You know that. At a certain point, forgetting doesn’t help.

Those are some of the techniques that Carey found to be super effective. So, who can remember some of the things we just learned?

With that, Tracy O’Rourke is going to take a little bit of a different take on the art of the question. 

The Art Of The Question

How Do We Get Inspired About Asking Questions?

Ask vs. Tell

Asking questions are more important than telling the answer to questions because it makes you think. If you have a teenager, how is “telling” going? Are they learning? You don’t want your teenagers to make the same mistakes as you did but they have to learn for themselves. They have to ask the critical questions.

If They Can Put A Man On The Moon, Why Can’t They Make A Better Foot? 

Inventor, Van Phillips, invented the Flex-Foot. When Van was 21 years old, he lost his left leg in a ski boat accident. He accepted his situation but he was unimpressed with the pink plastic foot he was given. He felt the image of the foot was not as important as the performance. He went to the designers and asked questions such as, “Why is it like this?” The designers responded, “This is how it’s always been done.” With that, Van’s voyage began with one question: “Why can’t I make a better foot?”

It’s really about asking profound questions in order to really think think about what is possible. Thirty years later, Van is able to run and he has changed many lives of amputees.

Where Does Creative Genius Come From?

Does it come from knowing all the answers or does it come from asking profound questions? How do we help people ask profound questions? What is a profound question? A profound question is a question that:

  • Challenges assumptions
  • Considers new possibilities
  • Has potential to serve

Why Don’t We Ask More Questions? Why is it so hard to ask more questions? 

  • We aren’t used to it
  • We’re busy
  • Requires patience

Why Do We Stop Asking Why?

The average 2-5 year old child asking 40,000 questions. In a way, we grew up being told to stop asking questions. When you raised your hand in class, you were told, “I don’t have time to explain right now, just pay attention.” 

If we ask too many questions at work is that also viewed as annoying? Unfortunately, there are disengaged employees at work and one reason is that the inquisitive mind is squashed versus promoted.

Let’s re-engage with curiosity. This can be a hard thing to overcome after learning over long stretches of time that asking why is not a desired behavior.

How Do We Ask Better And More Profound Questions?

Create The Right Environment

  1. Insert fun! There is always an opportunity to have fun. Fun is important because it makes life better, you got to enjoy what you’re doing, and it’s important for employee retention and engagement.
  2. Create a safe and blame-free environment. Innovative environments allow for acceptable levels of risk. Creativity and outside-the-box thinking is rewarded.
  3. Build Problem-Solvers. In order to build inquisitive minds, leaders must stop telling and do more asking. Leaders shouldn’t have all the answers anymore. Instead, leaders can help others through discovery by using the Socratic method of asking questions and collective collaboration in solving problems.

Do you encourage others to ask questions? Why or why not? Comment below! We’d love know how you create the right environment.

Help build problem-solvers. Register for Green Belt Training & Certification today!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

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