Friday, 13 May 2016

Spirit of Inquiry: The Key to Adaptability

Adaptability is a vital skill in our fast paced modern lives. The pace of change and the accompanying emotions can often could our understanding, leaving us grappling with limited choices to even just get by. Does it really have to be like this? More importantly, do we even recognize that it may be happening a bit too often?

The ability to pause, observe and reflect may offer some respite with a better perspective. A spirit of thoughtful inquiry is at the core of it all. It lets you wade into discomfort and look at the unvarnished multiple dimensions of reality sans the spin. That’s a logical argument. Alright, now go ahead and tell that to your brain that isn't too coy about taking the path of least resistance! We like shortcuts that simplify our (already) complex lives, don't we? Spirit of inquiry can wait while we pray for our problems to go away somehow!

But some situations don't exactly work themselves out while we go to sleep. The fixes and patches dressed up as solutions come undone at some point in time. The chaos can be overwhelming enough to jolt us to seek out a different approach. In this article, we’re going to do just that as we explore how to work with a spirit of inquiry. We aren't looking at any silver bullet here. Instead, we’ll use our emotions like a signaling and guidance system, and unswervingly tap into the discomfort for ‘actionable’ insights. Yikes! Does that seem a bit fuzzy and unappetizing? Frankly, it isn't that scary as it appears! I’ll tell you why in the next paragraph.

So, what makes our reflective explorations look daunting at times? I believe it’s got to do with the way we frame our questions. As someone who ardently believes in the power of mindfulness, I’ve noticed how answers (or even the right insights and possibilities) ’appear’ almost magically when a calm mind is fed with a better framed question. It’s almost as if answers are desperately waiting to be wooed. You can't blame the demure “answers-in-distress” if they’re frustrated by the unworthy suitors (a.k.a half-baked questions) that show up! With such a spectacularly listless line-up, there’s gonna be no happily ever after.

So, let’s explore the art of framing questions to install a spirit of inquiry. Note that several sample questions are shown in this article. This is only an indicative list. You’re advised to formulate your own questions. Also, the idea is to use these questions to trigger more insights and answers. This process may not work out in a linear fashion. Get prepared to allow the understanding to reveal itself in stages, iterations and layers.

Clearer Context and Background

Getting a “high definition picture” of what has happened makes a huge difference. Your questions will need to be formulated accordingly to allow you to zoom in and out of this high definition picture. Not getting this connection sorted can leave you with a distorted understanding.  

What is obvious to us can be deceptive at times. Our own biases and preferences can make us look at a “convenient” reality that doesn't push us too far out of the comfort zone. Unfortunately, the convenient picture may present limited options and possibilities. Take off the tinted glasses to work with a spirit of inquiry and look at a wider canvas.

Before that, check how conducive is the environment. If the situation has been extraordinarily tumultuous or unbelievably good, it maybe better to wait for a while if that’s possible. At least ensure that you are in a reasonably composed state of mind before proceeding.

Zoom OUT to get the bigger picture:

  • Reflect on the following questions:
  • What is the larger implication of whatever has happened?
  • What purpose is being served here?
  • What is the important or key take-away?
  • What is driving all of this change?
  • What more do I need to know?

These questions allow you to go a few levels above the current situation, and get an understanding of the big picture and also the scope of the change. Sometimes, we get caught up in the minute details of the situation. Rushing off to action with these details can be tempting for many, even as they’re possessed by a sense of urgency. Without clarity on the larger connections and implications, such ‘solutions’ may not stay relevant for long. The shock and awe can be debilitating by the time you realize the full import of the change on you and others! So, spend as much time as possible on these questions. Draw pictures if needed to get a clearer view! Check with others who may know more.

ZOOM IN for more details:

Gather more information with specific and pointed questions that help to unravel the finer details. Let’s say someone proclaims that your project deliverable isn't “up-to the mark”. You can get a better understanding with questions like:

  • What specifically isn't up-to the mark?
  • What exactly did they mean?
  • Is there a way to quantify and categorize better?

Look for examples, instances, data points, trends and analytical inputs to back up or clarify your understanding. Some of us have a natural flair for gathering these details in a methodical manner. In both Zoom-IN and OUT, there comes a stage when it appears that you’ve reached a dead-end. It might be worthwhile to spend some time with the following questions in both cases.

What do I need to examine more?

  • What data do I require?
  • What information do I search for?
  • What do I need to SCRUB off to get a CLEARER Picture?
  • Who or What is preventing this SCRUBBING OFF?
  • What is working FOR & AGAINST the resolution of this ISSUE?

So, what’s with this SCRUBBING?

Well, you may notice that certain bits of information, facts, and supposedly “nuanced” opinions and analyses can prevent the real picture from emerging. It can be so tempting to settle for these refined and processed nuggets of wisdom. After all, it simplifies our life. We see it so often in the media. Events are analyzed and presented in such a seemingly authentic manner, that many of us may take it as the full picture or truth.

Scrubbing is what you’d want to do at this stage. It is a chance to work with filters too. Some of these filters may have been handed down to you by those with a vested interest in keeping the issue alive, or those with a limited understanding. Some filters are of your own making! It isn’t easy to work with them though. Trouble is, you may not have many sources to validate the prevailing wisdom and consensus. I’d recommend that you spend some time jotting down answers, words and thoughts for the following points. Though it may seem pretty much like a brain scrambler of sorts, stay with it across multiple iterations. The third and fourth points can be especially troubling! Eventually, you will get more pointers that can lead to a richer understanding. You may also want to go back to zooming in and zooming out with these pointers.

  • What I KNOW that I DON'T KNOW
  • What I KNOW that I KNOW
  • What I DON'T KNOW that I KNOW!
  • What I DON'T KNOW that I DON'T KNOW!
  • Is there something that’s keeping the situation stagnant and preventing a resolution? Who is gaining and who is losing?
  • Is there something that’s spicing up the situation, aggravating and confusing needlessly? Who is gaining and who is losing?
  • What am I NOT Seeing?
  • What am I IGNORING?
    • What are the obvious ideas and options I am Ignoring?
      • What makes me assume these are of “less/no importance" or not having potential for significant returns!
  • What seems convenient to sideline?
    • Maybe, I am hoping this will go away
  • Is there something that’s depleting me of energy & creativity?
    • How can I get back to being more creative and full of energy?
  • What are my FEARS about this?
    • What are these FEARS alerting me about?
    • How much of it is for real?
    • What is likely to aggravate it? How can I get this changed?
  • What is making me feel GUILTY?
    • What is likely to aggravate it? How can I get this changed?
  • What is making me ANGRY about this?
    • What is likely to aggravate it? How can I get this changed?
  • What is making me SAD about this?
    • What is likely to aggravate it? How can I get this changed?
  • What am I NOT letting Go, that is skewing the picture?
    • What do I lose and What do I gain if I do let it GO?
  • "What thought am I suppressing?
    • What if I give VOICE to it?”
    • How do I acknowledge it, and make use of it?
  • Am I trying to climb up the hill with too heavy a load?
    • Is there too much on the table?
    • Am I biting more than I can chew?
    • What can be done about it?
  • What is being covered up beneath the gloss & varnish?
    • "What is getting hidden?
    • What are you not being shown?
    • Am I wearing rose tinted glasses and seeing something that isn't quite there?

Periodically get back to a state of calm reflection to allow ideas, thoughts and possibilities flow in and out of your brain!

Getting to Outcomes, Possibilities and Options

Getting clarity about the outcome can by itself provide significant motivation. It sets the right tempo for you to explore options, solutions and possibilities. That’s why in coaching, we place great emphasis on defining outcomes and goals that can arouse a sense of exhilaration. Go one step upward and also spend some time engaging with the motivation that’s driving you to want this outcome. Connect with the outcome, ’see it’ and ‘feel it’ beforehand. Again, well formulated questions hold the key to make this picture truly high definition.

What do I want?

In Motivation theory, we talk about gravitating towards certain outcomes and results that we wish to experience. It is also called the “Towards” mode of motivation which pulls you in with the promise of the pleasure of achieving the goal/outcome. Go ahead and describe what’ll happen when you’ve achieved this outcome. What exactly is making you want it so badly?
  • What will I get or gain when this outcome has happened?
  • How will I enjoy the moment?
  • What will I feel like?

What I don't want?

Sometimes, we aren't so motivated by the pleasure of the outcome. Rather, it is the pain of not getting the outcome that drives us towards change. You’re driven by the away from pain motivation mode. You don't file tax returns for the sheer pleasure of it, do you? But again, negative pressures can also push you to take action. So, it is important to question yourself:
  • What will I face if this doesn't happen?
  • What will I lose in that case?
  • What is the danger if this outcome doesn't happen?

What HABITS are needed to get a solution and outcome that is SUSTAINABLE?

Sometimes, we get all excited about wanting a change. We’re ready to plunge into execution as we’re so eager to get to our outcome. But then, we haven't put together the right support system that will allow this change to happen seamlessly. Some of our regular habits and routines can drag us back to status quo ruthlessly. So, it is important to figure out how we can make space for the new outcome, so that the change happens and is sustainable too. 

  • What habits do I need to make this change possible?
  • How can I build the right momentum and prevent a relapse?
  • What obstacles am I likely to face?
  • What is likely to make it go OFF COURSE?
  • What early warning system can I setup to detect it before it blows up?
  • If that happens, how can I get it back on course?
  • How can I safeguard the change?
  • Will the solution create any knock-on effects or problems?

Define the EMOTIONAL Outcome you want

  • What exactly do I want to experience when I’ve reached the outcome?

Maybe Happiness, Confidence, Courage, Satisfaction, Optimism, Exhilaration, Elation,… Having clarity about this can also add to your motivation. Also, at the end of it all, it is the experience you are really after!

Define the steps you’ll explore to get to the outcome:

  • If there were absolutely NO CONSTRAINTS, What will I do?
  • What will be the first step I’ll take?
  • Who will I approach for support?
  • What skills will I use to get to the outcome?
Go ahead, frame well formed questions, and adapt well!

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