The linguistic architecture of powerful questions diagram [adapted]. The Art and architecture of powerful questions. Vogt, Brown, & Isaacs (2003, p. 3).
I’ve attended and held many meetings surrounding the topic of change, innovation and professional development over the past 10 years as an instructor and program coordinator in media studies. In the past, many decisions that were made to initiate change within our department, program and courses were dictated by management without consulting staff and or faculty. Decisions were frequently implemented without consensus among our team and lacked insights and contributions from experienced members. Newly devised and implemented plans or strategies usually fell apart because these decisions were not thought through or simulated with input from experienced members or industry collaboration. Throughout my Leadership, Learning & Technology course I have learned that leaders—instead of delegating a plan of action—should be more inclusive when developing ideas and strategies for change, innovation and professional development.
“Questions open the door to dialogue and discovery. They are an invitation to creativity and breakthrough thinking. Questions can lead to movement and action on key issues; by generating creative insights, they can ignite change”
— Vogt, Brown, & Isaacs, 2003, p. 1
During Unit 3 of the course, I explored how to construct powerful questions to foster authentic and meaningful conversations. Cross, (2007) refers to this process as The World Café and references insights maintained by Brown and Isaacs (2005) publication, The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter. As I began to reflect more about the process of The World Café, I could imagine implementing this process during staff meetings or even during student feedback sessions. I then discovered that constructing powerful questions to provoke creative thought for innovation should start with a focused goal in mind. Giving clarity and context to challenges through the use of real-life issues and questions would allow participants to engage in collaborative, in-depth exploration and innovative thinking (Cross, 2007, p. 115). Vogt, Brown and Isaacs (2003) maintain that “Questions can lead to movement and action on key issues; by generating creative insights, they can ignite change” (p. 1).
Within ‘The Art of Powerful Questions’ article, Vogt et al. (2003) present the three dimensions of formulating powerful questions. Construction of a Question, The Scope of Question and The Assumptions Within Questions. Discovering these dimensions has been very enlightening for me in my role as a program coordinator; as it has allowed me to think critically about the underlying challenges that my program, students and staff are faced with on a daily basis and within our industry. These formulas gave me a different perspective on the various system archetypes within our cluster of certificate and diploma programs and courses. In the past, I would experience questions that would evoke a defensive response, were too broad in scope or had presumed assumptions about a challenge. “When constructing powerful questions, queries should stimulate reflective thinking in order to spark deeper conversation” (Vogt et al. 2003, p. 4).
Consider the following questions and view how they move from broad in scope to becoming more focused in structure:
- Are you satisfied with our program?
- When have you been most satisfied with our program?
- What is it about our program that you find most satisfying?
- Why might it be that that our program has had its ups and downs?
Considering these new insights regarding the three dimensions of constructing powerful questions, I now have a solid foundation to help my team clarify the scope of complex challenges while creating an environment for inclusion, deeper thought, and creative solutions. “As with any new skill, the best teacher is experience, and the best coach is a thoughtful listener” (Vogt et al. 2003, p. 6).
Vogt, E., Brown, J., & Isaacs, D. (2003). The art of powerful questions: Catalyzing insight, innovation and action. Mill Valley, CA: Whole Systems Associates.
Cross, J. (2007). Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco CA: Pfeiffer.