Updated: Apr 9, 2019
Warren Buffet created his empire by asking really good questions. Which, by the way, is his top piece of career advice for business persons and entrepreneurs of today. Unfortunately, it appears that too many people have forgotten how to ask questions properly. Has the art of the query been purged from society through answer-me-this education and the idea that dictation displays intelligence?
Businesses add to the questioning concerns by choosing to remain stuck in authoritarian forms of culture. Probing the systems, products, or status quo is simply not tolerated. Suggesting a better way, or expressing an idea of how to eliminate a step of a lengthy process, is unheard of in these organizations. Sadly, even at the grave expense of improvement. Why is it not okay to break convention?
Good questions lead to examination, which leads to introspection, which then gives people an advantage, as Warren Buffet well knows. But, since many of the best questioners are four year olds, businesses seem to be missing out. Could it be that one of the many reasons so few companies are truly innovative is that no one is allowed to consistently question the status quo?
Why Not Give the People What They Want
Is it important to find an organization whose culture will pair well with and support your values, personality and working style?
Of course it is, at least that’s what most people think. In fact, 84% of business people believe it is critical for success. What’s more, an impressive 60% of people believe that it’s more important than strategy or operating models, and 51% think their current culture is in need of a major overhaul. Hey, corporate America -- that’s an awful lot of like-minded people wanting and ready for change.
Do your employees have the opportunity to do what they do best everyday? Is it possible that they may know certain aspects of your business better than you?
So, it’s not even a question of whether a company should have a free thinking-creative, culture; it’s whether this culture is open to humbly withstanding employees that ask a lot of questions. Unfortunately, this is not done as a matter of routine. Perhaps this is a part of what prohibits companies, and their employees from innovating.
The Difference between Desperation and Innovation
Another problem with the authoritarian model: It’s difficult - if not impossible - to be creative on command, as most people are unlikely to question authority when it’s holding a metaphorical gun to their head. Under these circumstances, people will perform out of desperation, but they’ll never force the issue, break down barriers, think at a higher level, or transform their company’s bottom line. In short, their creativity is constantly stunted by fear.
Unfortunately, this is the mood inherent in many organizational cultures; people are hired not to think, but to execute the existing plans. No one is safe to question whether something could be done better, or whether it should be done at all. The point of view in long-established corporations is that it’s always worked – and it will always continue work.
Except, it doesn’t.
The most innovative companies are the ones not only making the big bucks, but also changing the world. These companies are the ones challenging the norm – and questioning the motives behind the methods. These are companies like Airbnb, Donorschoose.org, WildChina, and of course Amazon, Google and Zappos.
The company culture at these corporations defies mainstream, established business practices. People are hired to find solutions. They are appointed to ask questions. It’s a part of company culture that begins at the most senior levels. According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s visionary CEO, explorers and pioneers succeed in his company. Incidentally, he’s known for sometimes asking seemingly childish why questions, and that’s a characteristic he shared with the late Steve Jobs.
Could it be that asking really good questions is a key component to overwhelming success?
A company culture that promotes healthy questioning and examinations of the established methodologies makes it easy to innovate. Companies with a don’t rock the boat culture are already treading water with 18% of their disengaged employees.
How is the way you as the leader think and process information affecting your organizational culture?
Maybe it’s time for you to consider Warren Buffet’s advice. Bring your inner four-year-old to work and see what a difference your queries have on the bottom line – yours and your company’s, of course. If your employer can’t handle a few questions – is it really the right place for you?