June 27, 2023

In the digital world,

finding the right answers is about asking the right questions

How good is your company at asking the right questions before looking for the right answers?

In his book, The Book of Beautiful Questions, author Warren Burger makes his case for the power and value of good questions. “Having strong questioning skills has always been important. But in a time of exponential change, it’s a twenty-first century survival skill.”

The speed and diversity of disruptive digital technologies has proven its potential existential threat to companies of all sizes across all industries. With so much at stake, it’s alarming to see that 70% of companies’ digital transformations are failing to reach their desired outcomes as I documented in my May blog.

As companies struggle to come to grips with this new competitive reality, many think the best approach is to rush off in multiple directions with multiple initiatives in search of illusive solutions.

They are working hard to introduce and deploy new tools like Agile, Lean, and DevOps to make their organizations nimbler and more adaptable to the changing speed of business. While their motivations may be good, their frenetic pursuit of fast answers often leads to a great deal of wasted time and resources.

In the fast paced, always connected, 24/7 world we now live in, too little time is allocated for thoughtful inquiry and critical thinking.

A good question to start with: What outcome are we really trying to achieve?

As Warren Burger says, questions enable us to “organize our thinking around what we don’t know so our discovery process can uncover what we need to know” to achieve the desired outcome.

If your desired outcome is to transform your company into a digital enterprise, then here are some key questions to help you uncover what you need to know to achieve that outcome.

These V2MOM questions were developed by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, to align his entire organization around what the company needed to know in order to be a disruptive innovator in the enterprise software market. Instead of presenting a mission statement Marc presented a series of “mission questions.”

VISION: What is the desired future state for our company?

VALUES: Why do we seek this vision and what are our core values that will help us achieve it?

METHODS: How are we going to implement successful disruptive innovations?

OBSTACLES: What do we have to overcome to achieve success?

MEASURES: How are we going to measure actual outcomes vs. desired outcomes?

The Beginner’s Mind

Marc is also a great believer in approaching decision making with a “beginner’s mind” that constantly sees the world with fresh eyes. In 2016, he described his thought process this way, “I kind of try to let go of all the things that have ever happened so far in our industry, which is a lot of stuff, and just go, OK, what’s going to happen right now?”

Here are three questions to help you look at your company through the lens of digital technology disruption with a fresh set of eyes:

  • How long can the company’s current business model deliver its desired business growth goals and financial results?
  • How vulnerable is the company’s business model to being digitally disrupted?
  • How capable is the company of competing as a digital enterprise without compromising our customer relationships, our brand value proposition, and our employees’ well-being?

Continuous learning driven by continuous questions

The most important questions are the ones that help C-Suite executives and other senior leaders learn what they need to know to make good decisions. A key role these questions play is to help them determine what the company should be doing and what it should not be doing. They also allow leaders to identify what things the company can’t do now but needs to learn how to do going forward.

Here are some core foundational questions which should be asked over and over:

  • How does our company create value?
  • Do we have the necessary skills and capabilities to deliver that value?
  • What could disrupt or dilute that value?
  • How can we increase or enhance that value?

The thoughtful pursuit of the sometimes-evolving answers to these questions enables senior leadership teams to prioritize what should be on their continuous learning agenda. It will also help shape a coherent approach to gathering, analyzing, and codifying critical market, customer, and competitive data to expedite critical business decisions. Simply put, without the right insights, it’s impossible to drive meaningful growth and value creation in the age of digital disruption.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me on linkedin. And, if this content could be useful to someone you know please share it here: