The Practice of Learning Teams
Foreword by Dr Todd Conklin
The enemy of the question is the answer
Please allow me to begin the foreword of this fine book with a foundational and important statement: The enemy of the question is the answer. We, as organizations and individuals, are not curious enough if we believe we know the answer. There is no need to seek information if we believe we already have the information. The “pull” to know is based upon not knowing – and this idea, at least at first pass, is somewhat counter-intuitive. After all, we all live in a world where the assumption often is our leadership must know best…and sometimes leadership knowledge is exactly what our organization needs.
Organizations often find themselves in an internal battle for effectively learning from themselves. Leadership sometimes feels victimized by their ability to get accurate and honest information from the organization. Getting accurate and helpful information is not an easy task and therefore organizations have traditionally struggled in their improvement and corrective action activities. Leaders are not satisfied, and organizations are not improving; both outcomes are less than satisfying for everyone involved. Our traditional solution has been to “try harder” to get the answers we need often by seeking information that confirms what we already think we know. If we don’t get the information we want and need, we assume the problem is in the information collected. That, we are learning, is almost never the case.
This problem is often seen as a function of not getting good enough answers. “We did not get the answer we needed.” If people would just tell us the answer, we would be fine. We have created a place for workers to tell us what they know – “my door is always open”… “workers need only walk in and tell me what they know”. We push our organizations for quick answers – we want to know what to fix as soon as possible.
Answers are simply reflections of the questions that organizations are asking. If you want better answers, you must first learn how to ask better questions. Learning is not about getting answers. Learning has never been about getting answers. Learning is a direct function of the method by which we gather information.