In praise of asking open questions

This time, it’s about the privilege of asking good questions. It’s about the privilege of building trust.

Conversation is from the latin word Cum-versare, literally turning (“versare”) together (“cum”). It indicates the ability to sync with one another, physically as well as metaphorically, when we talk and communicate.

A good conversation happens through questions and answers. Too many times either we struggle to ask questions or, when we do, we ask wrongly.

We can change this, to our greatest advantage.

Closed questions, for example, are those which can be answered with either yes or no. Do you think I could do better? is a closed question

Open questions require a broader answer than just yes or no. How do you think I could do better? What do you think I could do better? are both open versions of the same question.

Any time we ask a closed question, we pay the price, the opportunity cost of not asking an open question. Only very rarely, in fact, does asking closed questions foster fruitful answers.

We’d better think carefully, before asking closed questions.

The opposite is also true: good, open questions are a prerequisite of many good, inspiring answers.

Our conversation partner will feel encouraged to open up, disclose more, share an indication as to how effectively I can do better. An open question and, more in general, an open way to communicate, facilitates satisfaction through effective and rewarding conversation, as we open up, we avoid feeling defensive, we share our thoughts and emotions more easily.

A good answer to a good question is the key building block of a relationship of trust. When I receive a good answer to a good question, I start building trust with my conversation partner.

Trusting someone means relying on someone’s good answers to our questions.

 

Tommaso Arenare

 

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

My next move, through Black Swans and Obliquity


What do you think I can do next? What “career move” do you recommend? How can I land that fantastic CEO job at company (or bank) XYZ?

Again, those are some of the questions I am faced with daily.

As simple as they are, they cannot be answered seriously.

Let’s see how we can take a different angle, open up a different perspective, by combining a few separate thoughts: that of a “Black Swan“, that of “Obliquity“, and that of a “much smaller, yet more precious list” I have discussed separately.

Black Swans (…) are large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequence—unpredicted by a certain observer.

Nassim N. Taleb, “Antifragile, Things that Gain from Disorder, Prologue, 2012.

Black Swans can be negative as well as thy can be positive. Limiting the exposure to negative Black Swans and increasing our exposure to positive Black Swans is the challenge, then.

John Kay describes obliquity as follows:

If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’: paradoxical as it sounds, many goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows us that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain.

Obliquity implies that future opportunities can best be pursued indirectly. Black Swans imply that the only safe thing we know about our next move is that we don’t know what it is going to be.

Remember, though, that people, not what we do, will make us happy. Finding people we like, people who inspire, is therefore as unpredictable and as uncertain as the combination of Black Swans and Obliquity. Yet, finding and nurturing relationships will give us pleasure, stimulate our thinking, open up endless possibilities.

Hence, that “much smaller and more precious list“, our path to connecting wisely, is our way forward. The wiser we are in connecting with people we like, the more will we be exposed to positive (and oblique) Black Swans. That person we like, whom we regularly talk to, seek advice and inspiration from, at a given, unexpected moment will come out with that fantastic thought, with that inspiring question, which will lead to our next opportunity, perhaps to our next job.

There’s no predictable limit to the power of relationship, the power of connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

A much smaller, yet more precious list

In his thought-provoking HBR post, “Turn Your Career into a Work of Art“, Gianpiero Petriglieri sets the tone for real progress in how we all look at a radical re-thinking of what we would call “career”:

Whose life am I living? I’m sure you ask yourself that kind of question from time to time. What am I really good at? What is the purpose of my work? These are not new questions. Sooner or later, we all seek answers to them… Not only when we are struggling, but, paradoxically, when we are succeeding.

The challenge, then, is to find an “identity workspace“, where what you do “resonates with an audience”.

Audience is people. Again, what we do is important, that’s clear. More important, though, is for and with whom we do what we do, whose needs we address through what we do. This opens up an entirely new element, which we’ve kept unconscious for so long.

People, not what we do, will make us happy.

Finding people we like, finding our “audience”, people who inspire. Nurturing relationships which give us pleasure, stimulate our thinking…

All of this requires the ability to connect, and to do so in a wise manner, through careful selection. Selection is choice. Choosing who we like requires thinking, open thinking.

When I face people who come to discuss similar matters with me, I often ask a simple question: “How many people have you known, in your life?”. Answers to that vary from “A few dozen” to the bravest, who dare say “Maybe a thousand?”

Reality, though, is a lot more. Most of us highly underestimate the value of relationship and connection.

Someone living their life in professional services, since their mid thirties, is more likely to have known, in the broadest sense of the meaning, between four and in some cases as many as ten thousand people (think about all the people you’ve known during your school life, then the university, then your colleagues at work…).

We live a life of overexposure to connecting, not the opposite.

Hence, an important next steps towards a world of connecting wisely is that of sharpening the focus: “How many, of those thousand people, are those I like, those who can inspire me, those I find satisfaction in connecting with?” 

Let’s write those few names (10 to 20) down, in a moment of rest.

That much smaller and more precious list is a starting point for connecting wisely, a good base for building our audience, these are people I want to connect with regularly, people whose advice I want and need to seek regularly.

I want these people to know they are on my list.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare

What we talk about when we talk about “career”

image“How about my career? What’s my next career move?”

So many times are these the sort of questions I am faced with. We talk about “career choices”, “career planning” and so on.

When I reply to this, people listen with curiosity. “Do you know where the word “career” comes from?”, I ask so often.

I want to share a different perspective.

“Career” is from a Spanish word, “carrera”, initially from “carro”, which is “carriage” or “cart”. Hence, “carrera” makes me think, originally, of “the road for carriages“. A road for carriages has two tracks, dug by the continuous pressure of the carriages’ wheels. Two tracks, like a railway line. Out of the tracks, trains derail. No freedom to leave the tracks.

Let’s look back, now. Often, when we talk about “career”, we talk about a road we haven’t really, consciously selected. More than a road, a “track”. A very tight one, though: our parents started by selecting the “right” school for us, often from the nursery on to primary. Then, we believe we are the ones who choose, all the way through to college. Then, what? Our tracks lead us to the “right” undergrad, then the right MBA, double degree or else. All this, then, translates into the “right” job, with the proper “bulge bracket” Investment Bank, or Firm, or what.

At some point, though, our railway tracks end. We feel this, when we start talking about “the next career move”, when we feel we are not in control. “Why is it that no one calls me?”

We feel lost.

That’s where the element of “choice” steps in.

Choice means freedom. We are free to choose what we want to be and, most importantly, for whom.

All of us, particularly those who work in the field of professional services, we all need to ask ourselves this question. What we do is important, that’s clear. More important, though, is for and with whom we do what we do, whose needs we address through what we do. This opens up an entirely new element, which we’ve kept unconscious for so long.

People, not what we do, will make us happy.

We can then forget about “career moves”, and the uneasy, fixed tracks, dug by carriage wheels doing the same, time and again. A world of possibilities opens up, the world of selecting the right people, the world of connecting wisely.

Tommaso Arenare

www.twitter.com/tommaso_arenare