Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sparking insight: Questions to re-ignite inquiry (Part II)

On the road again


In Part I, we got into the nuts and bolts of asking “Why?” and stepping into another person’s philosophical shoes. Check out Part I if you haven’t yet! We started with the idea that inquiry is like an engine that needs regular inputs and the occasional spark of inspiration. With that in mind, here are a couple more questions to keep you going.





Ask these in a quiet setting, like a coffee shop or park (now that it’s warm out again!). Or consider making them a regular part of your routine at your job or while working for the causes you care about. Whether you ask them when you wake up, as your computer gets started, or while you're cleaning around the house, they can help you travel forward with more intentionality and awareness.

As in Part I, each question begins with a thought experiment, then moves into a bonus: a specific idea with a way to take action.

Questions to move forward


3. “What am I rehearsing?”


The thoughts we rehearse have an impact on mindset, mood, and motivation. A study from the UK suggests that our psychological response to events is a big part of how we experience those events. Ruminating on the past (that is, focusing attention on bad feelings and experiences without moving on to solutions) has been connected with depression and anxiety.

Our thoughts also affect those around us. Research has also shown for years that teacher expectations influence student performance (see the Pygmalion Effect). The new podcast Invisibilia showed how, in a very tangible way, the expectations of people around them can affect how blind people move and experience life (How To Become Batman).

Are you caring for your mindset? Are you ruminating on the best of today and making plans for tomorrow, or subconsciously rehearsing blame, confusion, and hopelessness? At its most basic, change happens because of the mindsets, hopes, and actions of individuals. Mindfulness about mindset isn't just an option for people inspired to create strong futures: it's a priority.

My housemate and I recently got together a group of neighbors who were strangers to each other, but all informally involved in strengthening the community. We asked, “What are you and your group doing in the neighborhood? What’s coming up that you’re excited about?” It was a fantastic conversation and made us excited to keep working toward an awesome neighborhood. It led us to a mindset inspired by thoughts of strength, hope and vision for the future.

For a concrete framework to apply asset-based, forward-looking thinking to an issue, community or organization, check out appreciative inquiry.

Bonus: Get a group of people together over dessert or snacks—board members, friends, your family, neighbors, people you know from volunteering—and invite them to look at the gifts, strengths, and opportunities at hand. Even if you don’t get concrete results right away, the charge of positivity might inspire you to keep going, and the relationships you build can benefit your work down the line.



4. “What else do I need to know?”


As a research nerd, I like to have numbers to describe an issue like poverty, educational attainment, or health coverage. And it’s great to have data at hand when you have to make a decision. However, I’ve learned to build on that with larger spans of understanding, asking questions like:

  • What other information or way of knowing might shed light on this question?
  • How was the information before me created? Was the process transparent and comprehensive? What assumptions were in place when it was generated?
  • Am I in the position to make a decision about how to use this information, or should I seek input from other people?
  • Who else might be interested or invested in this question?
  • Who would be impacted by our decisions in this area?
  • What will we gain or lose from taking a particular path forward with this information? What will we gain or lose if we don’t take it?
To ask and answer questions well, we may build skills in an area like community engagement or research methodology. We might also find the space to explore more foundational questions:
  • What are my goals?
  • What are my guiding values and principles?
Peter Drucker, author and advisor to several globally successful companies, wrote, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” We can get closer to doing the right things through research, but the process also benefits from an ethical framework, self-examination, and input from others.

Bonus:  Get a notebook or open your notetaking app, take a figurative step back, and ask the questions above about an issue you've been pondering.

Start your engines!


As you get ready to ignite inquiry and hit the open road with questions, exploration, and adventure before you, there are just two more things to keep in mind:

First, as many of us know from our winters in the land of frozen batteries, an engine runs best when it’s used regularly. Keep your analytic engines in good condition by questioning the world around you!

Second, every vehicle needs some kind of fuel. A bike needs foot power to get going; a kite needs wind and the structure of string and frame. Whether it’s talking with friends, attending a Minnesota Rising recommended event, or starting a series of conversations at your school, workplace, or place of worship, find a regular source of power for your inquiring imagination. And share with us what you find out!

(Looking for questions 1 and 2? See Sparking insight: Part I.)

About the author


Ruth works at Minnesota Compass, a project led by Wilder Research. She asks a lot of questions and she enjoys walks, dancing, and playing the guitar. Find Ruth on LinkedIn or Twitter.




Images created with Pablo using pictures from Pixabay and Death to the Stock Photo.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! Of course as a therapist I like the part about how our thoughts have an impact on us!!

    ReplyDelete

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