From the Archive: So What? Improvement through questions

Timeless advice never gets dated. For that reason I am republishing this post from December 2015. As you are preparing for 2017 you may want to consider this advice.
I try to improve myself all the time because, frankly, I need it. For this reason I am reading Think Smarter by Michael Kallet. The subtitle of the book is Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills. It has been a thought-provoking exercise. Kallet talks about the value of asking questions. One question I like is “So what?”

So What?

We have all probably heard this asked at some point in our life, usually sarcastically or as an indicator of apathy. Kallet has a different meaning for this question however. To him it means “why is this important?” It is a question about relevance. It is a question of consequences. It is a question of value. It is a question of next steps.
Kallet gives some examples of how this question can be used by managers and leaders as a way of getting clarity in situations. Here is such an example:

One of the key member of your team calls in sick, and it appears she will be out of the office for the better part of a week. You deliverable is due in two weeks. Asking ‘So what?’ guides you to a conversation about how the missing team member will affect the deliverable, how you might compensate for that, or how your teammate might contribute despite being sick. So what leads to discussion about who is depending on the person’s work, how this might affect your group, and how it might affect those expecting the deliverable.

Don’t be a “wise guy”

Kallet warns us not to be a wise guy or jerk about the question. As a manager you have to have a genuine interest in helping people think. You want to stimulate people to look at and solve problems and not rely on you, the manager, as the provider of solutions.
When looking at your department or your company’s “so what” you are talking about the value proposition. What value is being offered? Successful products or services have an identifiable value, and if that is unclear you are unlikely to be successful.

On a personal level

You can also ask of yourself “so what?” Asking this question allows you to identify what makes you valuable. This can provide you with a powerful answer that will help you with promotions, job changes or job loss. It gets you beyond a title and gets at the essence of what you do well. This is what allows you to be versatile and it broadens your appeal. You are no longer tied to an industry or job title. It can also help you get over the job “doldrums” where you are feeling locked into a position.
The next time some presents you with a problem, or opportunity or situation ask them “So what?” Help them think of the solution, the value or answer that will help them make the appropriate decision.

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