Why Inquiry is so difficult?

I asked the question from myself and the group after one session at SoL ESG’s gathering at Meadowhead, Scotland.

Why Inquiry is so difficult?

What is inquiry? Orietta asked me. My dictionary says it is ”an act of asking for information”. In a context of dialogue and conversation I see dialogue as an open question that opens new possibilities.

It is difficult, because when you inquire you expose yourself to the group as someone who is not aware of everything. This is how we are trained to think, to be specialists, not to be people who go around ask what’s going on in here. Nevertheless, inquiry is more valuable than gold. And Gold will never lose its value.

We can think this also from a systems perspective. When dialogue starts on some topic there may be a little inquiry to set the direction. But soon, I have noticed, for example in ESG meeting I attended, people start to advocate their views on the topic or (a bit) aside the topic as in good dialogue is supposed to. And then we have a created a system of changing expertise on the issue. And when this kind of expert system is being created sometimes for me it is hard to inquire. I create within myself a system of holding back. I hold back my question, because I feel that people could think I am stupid or even laugh at me. I think the underlying fear is being found un-lovable. Esa Saarinen says that systems of holding back occur naturally if we don’t pay special attention on dismantling them.

But then, these systems of holding back and expertise only are possible to dismantle. And a good way is through inquiry. Because usually, when you dare to make the step into unknown, you open yourself, you also open the way for others to do the same. When you do that creative system intervention, you actually bring a lot of fresh air and sunshine into the system, and the system changes. Maybe through your example other people will dare to ask more questions. And suddenly, the dialogue is on a whole new level, we are not speaking anymore from the level of expertise, but from the level of real world personal experience and heart. That’s when ”the talk” starts. So again, you cannot blame others for the system, but you have to be the change you want to see in that system.

Another system of holding back on dialogue is internal. I find myself being very critical on what I say. Almost hyper-critical. And this kind self criticism stops action. It stops the action even before it occurs. It is too bad, I think. This idea has been on my mind ever since I attended LAN, but recently it came back me thanks to Robert E Quinn’s book Change the World. It is about chancing the world and the fundamental idea is that the only way to change the world is by changing yourself. And by changing yourself your relationships with other people change, and thus they will have to change themselves, too. Systemic, eh? One chapter of the book was about the Embracing the Hypocritical Self. Robert said that in every change process he has to think how in that situation himself is not walking the talk. In which spot he has to change himself in order to enable change in people he works with. Where are the integrity caps where the talk and walk doesn’t meet? Within himself, not within the customer.

Johannes recommended the book for me during the Team Mastery process. I didn’t quite get it by then although the name was inspiring for UWC alumni. I came across the book again this may when I was working with Javier in Bilbao as he had bought the book. I borrowed it for two weeks and got it started then. I was inspired to get the book for myself, and for sure it is worth reading I think. At any case, after reading the book I went to check the YPK for what Johannes had wrote about it. He talked about the 7 step change process and on the part hypo-critical self, Johannes refers to hyper-critical self, an aspect I don’t remember from the book. But this idea of hypocriteism being actually connected to self hyper criticism is essential for me, and I believe many creative people can agree. (Well, are there people who are not creative?).

My interest towards inquiry comes essentially from my experience at Team Academy, practicing Dialogue two times a week for four hours more formally, and those uncounted times informally over coffee and project meetings etc. But where it really got a boost forward to the meta-level was in Finnish SoL Conference in November 2006. There was Prof. Marcial Losada giving us a keynote speech about his research on high performing teams. He had done an extensive research on team communication and found out that in high performing teams, in their strategy meetings the inquiry was in balance with advocacy. Ratio is 1 to 1. This was new to me but with my experience in dialogue it really made sense. Other Losada’s insights include that the ratio between positive and negative comments should be 6 to 1. Third conclusion of his was that the topic of interaction should be also balanced between one’s own organization and other organizations and trends. Me and my team mates Tapio and Sari developed a tool and workshop based on Losada’s research. Our work was to first measure the team performance and then host a workshop for them based on these results, Losada’s research and our Team Academy experience. From the very first measurement onwards we started to realize that the hardest part of Dialogue is the inquiry. People simply don’t ask enough questions that would open new possibilities.

I started to think what could be a good exercise or tool to learn inquiry? Here is one idea that came to my head right now:

1.       People are forced to ask questions. Let’s talk so that there has to be 2 open questions for every advocating comment. I guess this would in the beginning slow down the talk quite a lot, but it would also force people to start listening more carefully and intensively, I suppose. Otherwise it could hard to ask questions. I’d imagine this could work as an intervention that increases the intensiveness of the dialogue due to more active listening and forced thinking towards the other people. Furthermore, I think it could be effective in a sense that even 10-15 minutes could radically alter the way of communicating. People would be given a reason and promise to ask questions.

 Ps. I’ll update more links later. Also pictures will come. Sources for further info, too. Sorry for that, but had to get something published. See you. 

More Action. More Chaos. More Mistakes. More Learning.

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