500 Days of Questions

What would draw you to engage with a group of people (who are not family or even acquaintances) every weekday for 500 times? What kind of engagement helps you see into your greatest challenges with new eyes, seeing new possibilities? Who would have ever thought the answer would be, “Great questions”?

Questions are creative acts of intelligence. –Francis Kingdon-Ward

In March of 2020, just at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Stacy Becker and Glenda Eoyang felt they needed to do something to support people who were dealing with challenges they’d never faced before. After considering a few options, they launched a program they called, “Inquiry IS the Answer.” This event, held every weekday at 10:00 am Central Time, was built on a protocol called “The Power of Questions.” Glenda had developed the activity to help her clients look more deeply at the dynamics of their most wicked issues. She and Stacy offered the sessions initially to serve health care professionals and others who were dealing with the challenges brought on by the pandemic. 

The protocol is presented in a short slide presentation, and it is simple.

  1. The launch of the sessions started out the same every day. In a moment of silence, people are invited to reflect on the challenges and pain of those who have felt the impact of the pandemic in their lives. The group is then invited to consider the hope and power that’s available when we help each other look deeply into the challenges that have us stuck. After reading the HSD Vision and Simple Rules, the group agrees to a set of expectations that serve as norms for the group.
  2. The next—and final—slide outline the steps of the Power of Questions activity, which is framed as an Adaptive Action:
    1. WHAT? An individual frames a wicked issue in 3-5 sentences so that the group knows what their question is.
    2. SO WHAT? Then that individual listens to questions from the group without defending or answering. The questions that are asked are open-ended, not disguised advice, and should be beyond the knowledge of the asker.
    3. NOW WHAT? The person shares their reflections: Which questions were meaningful, what sense did they make of their original challenge, and what is their next wise action, based on what they heard. Their actions should be something that is within their control, reasonable response, promising, and short-term.
  3. The welcome and introduction general lasts about 2-3 minutes and the description of the challenge with the questions take about 15 minutes. The individual’s response to the questions takes about 3-5 minutes. That leaves roughly 10 minutes of open discussion about the topic and what the group heard in the questions.
  4. The session closes 30 minutes after it began, and everyone goes back to the rest of their daily lives. 

These sessions have been attended by people from six continents and about 16 countries. On any given day the group is generally made up of anywhere from 5-15 people. Some come almost every day; some have attended only 1 or twice. Over 400 people have registered for the sessions, and each one receives a daily reminder, 30 minutes prior to its start.

Friday, March 10 marks the 500th session of Inquiry IS the Answer, and it remains one of the most powerful activities I ever participated in. And I hear that from many of the people who attend. I believe that its power lies in the transformational questioning that happens.

Glenda explains the process as one of “opening the space for creative and useful” options for action to emerge. When I look at a problem and say, “I have to find an answer,” the space for exploration and examination narrows, and I remain stuck. But when I open to powerful questions, my “answer space” opens up, and my experience of the challenge is transformed. I gain insights that were not available to me before because I was “stuck” in how I framed the challenge as a “problem to be solved”. Transformational questions point me toward patterns that shape my challenge. That helps me see into ways I might shift those patterns and move toward a more functional, workable approach to the issue.

That’s what it means to ask “transformational questions.” They are designed to open up the space of thinking about the issue at hand. When the sessions launched, not one of us was an expert at forming these questions. Over time, the questions keep getting better and more compelling. It has been interesting to watch that development. People use a number of tools to find questions to pose:

  • HSD-based tools provide fodder for good questions. It would be difficult to name all the questions that those tools offer us, but here are a few of them:
  • Metaphors help us look at a challenge from a parallel view. There are some really creative people who come up with interesting metaphorical questions. Some examples of metaphors people use include:
    • If this challenge had a color, what color would it be?
    • What is the texture of the boundaries of this issue?
    • What kind of bird does this challenge look like?
    • How is this challenge like the favorite pet. you ever had? How is it different from that?
  • Questions about human emotional, physical, and psychological conditions help people experience their challenges in different ways:
    • What does love have to do with it?
    • Is this question about fear?
    • What are your best hopes?
    • Where do you feel this challenge in your body?
  • People sometimes look to the arts to frame their questions:
    • Is there a children’s story in your culture that might offer insights?
    • If this were a song, what kind of station would I hear it play on?
    • When you think about this challenge, do you see it as an abstract painting or as an impressionist? Cubist? Realist? Other?
    • If this challenge were a dance, what type of dance—jazz? Waltz? Line dance?

Those just represent a handful of the hundreds of questions that have been asked in these 500 sessions. You can follow this link to find out more about the protocol, to see recordings of past sessions, and to register for the Inquiry IS the Answer sessions. We’d love it if you’d join us to celebrate the 500th session. Who knows, we may be inviting you to our 1,000th session in another couple of years.

If you have been a part of these sessions, I invite you to share your experience of them in the comments below. If you haven’t been a part of the sessions yet, I invite you to register and come join us.

Be in touch if you just want to know more.


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