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Problem Solving Questions You Will Likely Forget to Ask

To a man with only a hammer every problem looks like a nail
You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability.
Michael J. Gelb
We live in the world our questions create.
David Cooperrider

To a man with only a hammer...

To a man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. This is especially true for the way we ask questions.

I believe in the power of asking questions. However, often I find myself jumping to solution mode too quickly, before properly defining the problem and understanding the real issue that needs to be solved. I am blinded by my experience, my training and my expertise. 

Don't misunderstand me! There is nothing wrong with having experience and expertise. On the contrary! But you need to know when to use it: once the issue has been properly framed by having asked the right questions. 

What makes asking questions very tricky is how based on your personality and experience you are predisposed to asking certain questions, while almost always missing the opportunity to ask some others. This is where a questions checklist can come in handy.

Your personality type will drive your line of questioning

The popular Myers-Briggs personality test assesses people along four dimensions. In each each of these dimensions two ends of the scale is defined. 

MBTI personality types

There are numerous free and paid online tests available. If you don't know your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) I recommend taking one of these tests. I recently tried 16Personalities and I can only recommend the service. When you complete the test you will receive a four letter type indicator specifying your preferences along the four dimensions. I am an INTJ, meaning I am an introverted, intuitive, thinker and judger. 

Two dimensions in particular will have a profound impact on the questions you are likely think of and the questions you will systematically miss. These dimensions are the ones in the middle, the way you take information in about the world, and the way you make decisions. In my case these are the N and the T.

I keep a list of questions at hand as a checklist to ensure I approach issues from all important angles, especially from those I am naturally not inclined to consider. Because I am an INTJ, I would be typically less likely to consider the Sensing and Feeling perspectives and would overweigh Intuition and Thinking. 

Checklist of questions

Here's the list of questions I use. I recommend paying especially close attention to the questions that are the opposite of your personality type indicator.

The way I take information in  

  • Sensing questions
    • How did we get into this situation?
    • What are the verifiable facts?
    • What exactly is the situation now?
    • What has been done and by whom?
    • What already exists and works?
  • INtuition questions
    • What interpretations can be made from the facts?
    • What insights and hunches come to mind about this situation?
    • What would the possibilities be if there were no restrictions?
    • What other directions/fields can be explored?
    • What is this problem analogous to?

The way I make decisions

  • Feeling questions
    • How will the outcome affect the people, the process, and/or the organization?
    • What is my personal reaction to (my likes/dislikes about) each alternative?
    • How will others react and respond to the options?
    • What are the underlying values involved for each choice?
    • Who is committed to carrying out the solution?
  • Thinking questions
    • What are the pros and cons of each alternative?
    • What are the logical consequences of the options?
    • What are the objective criteria that need to be satisfied?
    • What are the costs of each choice?
    • What is the most reasonable course of action?

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