Excerpt from Kevin Kelly’s book, “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future:”
Existence is chiefly maintenance. Everything is falling apart slowly. Everything requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. In a world of continuing upgrades, everyone becomes a newbie…forever.
For years, my father wanted to purchase a desktop computer. He would watch the infomercials and stay up to date on the latest technologies and offerings. Every time he came close to purchasing one, he would find a different option with upgrades.
Not only would the newer option have more of everything but also came with a printer and camera. This process was a never-ending cycle. Purchase now and tomorrow’s computer is better. Purchase tomorrow and next week’s option is better.
Eventually, my father purchased a desktop computer and upgraded the existing unit as he chose. After the computer was up and running, he then needed to connect the computer to the television. Another example of upgrading his experience and learning on the job.
He was constantly researching new ways to experience his computer. This new world of purchasing a desktop opened up a new world of maximizing its benefits which opened a portal into becoming a newbie forever.
Here is another excerpt from Kevin Kelly:
Science is a method that chiefly expands our ignorance rather than our knowledge. Every answer breeds at least two new questions. Our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially faster. The widening gap between two exponential curves is itself an exponential curve. Answers become cheap and questions become valuable.
Kelly gives us an example of answers leading to more questions. This exponential gap in questions to answers continues the newbie forever mantra. As John Archibald Wheeler once said, “We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”
Project managers should be expert questioners. Getting to the root cause, experimenting to find the correct solution, and choosing team members and their roles are all ways for project managers to seek answers through questions.
How does one ask better questions? Here are a few examples:
- Create Clarity
When someone has a question, the answer should provide an explanation. This explanation should help clarify the problem. If an issue pops up, questions help get to the bottom of why this is happening and possible solutions.
After a round of questions, the situation should not be muddier than before. If so, continue to ask questions. Explain more about the situation.
- Help People Think Analytically and Critically
Ask the team what the consequences, both positive and negative, are for moving in this direction. Try to kill the idea before leaving the room. If the idea can survive your attempts to derail, then it is strong enough to progress.
This scenario creates an environment where the team is thinking critically about their product or service. The majority of people think of ways this product or service will be the next big thing. Rarely do people consider ways this will not work. Questioning the validity of the idea makes the idea stronger or kills the idea and does not waste valuable time.
- Inspire People to See Things Differently
“Why did this work?” A simple question that can go unanswered. If left unanswered, throwing darts at a wall of ideas may work better than any brainstorming session you can organize. Develop a line of questioning that forces your team to see things differently.
In times of failure, people ask, “Why did this not work?” Success can hide many problems. If it is working, why fix it? Sometimes, successful operations need tweaking. To continue being successful, the question of why it is working needs to be answered. Once you can answer that question confidently, a strategy can be put into place to target more products or services in line with your answers.
- Challenge Assumptions
Best practices and operations are an assumed way of doing things. Your organization is successful performing a task this way so there is no need to change. Meanwhile, somewhere in the world, a team is developing a process that trumps yours and they will disrupt your entire foundation. This disruption may be cataclysmic. If you are lucky, you may be able to adopt these new best practices and stay successful.
The best period to question is when times are good. The fires have been put out and you can focus on the big picture. Now you can question if this is the best way to perform. Start to experiment with different ideas.
If you are growing and learning, you are a newbie. The ever-changing world forces you into this role. Once you get comfortable, people start passing you by. You like pen and paper for estimates so it takes you a day for one estimate while people who use technology can estimate in half of the time. The use of technology also allows others to see how you estimate and replicate your success, freeing you up to perform other activities.
There are levels to this newbie game. Your newbie status might be at the black belt level while someone else is a newbie in all facets of the profession. Your questions may be about big picture items while another person is asking where the bathrooms are located. Either way, both individuals should proudly represent their newbie titles.
Newbies are not afraid to ask questions. Just remember, the answers to these questions lead to more questions. For every one answer, two questions should follow. This exponential gap is encouraging and reminds you of the newbie path you take.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Over the past 10 years, Chris Cook has spent his career in the construction industry. He has a Bachelor's of Science in Industrial Technology Management with an emphasis in Building Construction Management and Master's of Science in Project Management. He is an accredited PMP.
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