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How to Get Unstuck with “Catalytic Questioning”

July 27, 2014

Ever have one of those challenges you’re just sick of thinking about?  Where it seems that you’re working too hard, and going nowhere fast?

Catalytic Questioning can help you get unstuck. There’s a smart article on it in July’s HBR that defines a process you can use individually and with teams.

In a nutshell, here are the steps:

  • Check to make sure all involved are intellectually and emotionally connected to the challenge, and truly don’t know how to answer it.
  • Sit or (better yet) stand in front of a whiteboard or several sheets of flip chart paper. Pick a scribe.  Before starting, take a breath, relax and set aside any mental distractions.
  • One at a time, state a question related to the challenge. The scribe simply writes each question.  At this stage, only questions are allowed – no explanations, comments or answers.  Each person works to provide interesting, provocative and/or important questions.  At times, the well will run dry.  Stick with it for 10-20 minutes, or until you have 50 – 100 questions.  Find the questions no one’s asking … yet.
  • When you’ve exhausted your ability to define questions, take a quick break or stretch.  Come back and identify the most “catalytic” ones – the ones with the potential to disrupt the status quo, or provide entirely different perspectives or solutions. Narrow it down to the 3-4 that matter most.
  • Now that you have 3-4 fresh lines of inquiry, go find some answers!  You can use Catalytic Questioning as often as needed to get unstuck and develop deeper insights and better solutions.

As an executive coach, I’ve seen over and over again how the right question can unlock new thinking, energy and solutions.  This question storming process can help you do the same.

2 Responses

  1. It’s funny how I’m good at doing this for others, but not for myself! A nice reminder and some great tips Tracy. Thanks!

  2. You’re very welcome. Hal Gregersen (http://halgregersen.com) has been doing some very interesting work as part of his “Questioning Quest.” I’ll be sure to post other good points and practices as he shares them.

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