Twas the night before Halloween and I couldn’t resist. My lovely bride stocked our house with our annual sugar overdose and I dove in.

halloween candy

The Heath Bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups somehow leaped into my hand. As the sugar high cut in and my emotional high watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series amped me up, I laughed realizing that I wasn’t going to get much sleep.

At 3 am I was wide awake cursing my inability to avoid a chocolate overdose late in the evening. I reached for my iPad and waded into my overnight email. I was so awake and so bored, I even read through the newsletters I normally skip like Berrett-Koehler Publishers. There to my wandering eyes appeared a quote from Helen Keller – “A well-educated mind will always have more questions than answers.”

Even at 3am they had my attention. I found a review of Ed Schein‘s Humble Inquiry which I’d bought a while ago but never read. I knew if they had this book then somebody was on the ball. As I scrolled further down I came across an offer I couldn’t refuse – for the next 48 hours I could download Schein’s book Helping and Marilee Adams book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.

I’ve been fascinated with the nature of questions since spending a year being mentored by Russ Ackoff in the mid 1980s. Russ’s PhD students shared that no matter how hard they tried to ask Russ good questions, he always managed to ask them a better question back. Up to that point, I’d always acted as the expert and focused on coming up with great answers. The year with Russ flipped my perspective into learning how to ask good questions.

About the same time I came across John Grinder’s distinction between Outcome Frame and Blame Frame (see “What process should we use?“). The Outcome Frame increases personal and group energy by asking the questions:

    • What are we trying to create?
    • How will we know we created it?
    • What resources do we have to get started now?
    • What other opportunities does this lead to?

The problem or blame frame decreases energy by asking questions like:

    • What is the problem?
    • How did it get this way?
    • Who caused it?
    • What are you going to do to fix it?

I took a quick look at the two free books and realized the Adams book was in Socratic story form. It won. For the next three hours, I was into the land of Ben (the desperate executive) and Joseph, Ben’s new transformational guru. Joseph described the two constant choices of daily life as being in “learner mindset” or “judger mindset.”

As Joseph elaborated on the model, he shared that all of us are recovering “judgers.” As I took a few moments to reflect on what I was reading, I realized that I wasn’t in the recovering judger mode. I was hip deep in the muck of the “judger pit.” Not just of my own making, but of those I was associating with over the last couple of weeks.

recovering judgers

If I could have highlighted this section several times, I would have worn out the screen of my iPad.

So I took a deep breath as I walked myself through the different types of questions on the Learner/Judger Chart.

Learner Judger Chart

And there it was about midway through the Learner Mindset – “values not knowing.” For the last six months, I’ve ranted about all the “experts” who have no idea what they are talking about or doing in the entrepreneurial space, but they still bluster and spew their expertise in every direction. I shouted to my colleagues at times “my kingdom for someone who values not knowing (and means it).”

Then I started laughing. I was as deep in the judging mode as they were. I was unable to choose to switch my mindset to the learner mode or the Outcome Frame. I was stuck in the Blame Frame.

I took to heart Adams ABCD action framework (Awareness, Breathe, Curiosity, and Decide). Now that I was aware of my Judger mindset, I breathed deeply and continued reading the book. Today is Day 1 of my Learner mindset action program. I eagerly await my first encounter with a “judger” event to see if I can take the Switching Lane to “learner” mind.

I picked up my calendar for the day and saw that I have a phone call with a product manager from Launchpad Central to provide product feedback. My first thought was a takeoff on one of the last scenes in Erin Brokovich “where did you learn how to design a software product? Because you suck at it!” (actual quote from the boss character Ed Masry: “Do they teach beauty queens to apologize? Because you suck at it!”).

Judger mode much?

Maybe I need a little more practice at switching into learner mode. Fortunately, I have a few hours to try several more learner mindset exercises.

It’s the questions Skip, not the answers. It’s the questions.


Maybe I can get a “?” tattoo for the back of my hand as a reminder?

question mark tattoo

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, checkout Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

This entry was posted in Ask and Tell, Content with Context, Entrepreneuring, Flipped Perspective, Learning, Russ Ackoff, Working in teams. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Questions?

  1. John Hertel says:

    This post reminded me of an easy technique (a twist on root cause analysis) that somebody shared with me last week when trying to solve any problem — ask five questions before attempting to provide an answer. You’ll usually get to the root cause at some point in those five questions.

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