Forgotten IT Skills: How To Ask Questions

Good IT Departments Know How To Ask Good Questions
Good IT Departments Know How To Ask Good Questions

It’s easy to get caught up in all of the servers, routers, applications, and firewalls that make up a modern IT environment. After a while we tend to start thinking that the path to our next great IT insight must lie somewhere in this jungle of IT “stuff”. And that is where you’d be wrong!

Ranjay Gulati, James Oldroyd, and Phanish Puranam are three researchers who have been studying this problem and they’ve made some interesting discoveries. They’ve come to realize that if IT folks like us want to help our firms uncover ideas for new products or services, then we may have to rediscover the ancient art of asking the right questions.

I will confess to being just as guilty of this as everyone else. In order to be more productive, I try to ask pointed questions that get right to the (what else) point. The researchers are saying that this is exactly the wrong thing to be doing.

What they are saying is that more often than not other parts of the company will have information and data that can help us uncover new products and solutions if only we know how to ask for it. If we re-train ourselves to start asking broad questions, then we will start to get exposed to more types of information.

An example of this comes from the folks at Harrah’s. The IT department was helping out with a project that was designed to find out what hotels were in need of expansion. They asked the question “What is the demand for our hotel rooms?” Note what they didn’t ask: “What is our occupancy rate?” The broad way that the question was asked allowed both the occupancy rate and the number of people unable to book a room because of the hotel being full or because they were unwilling to pay the room rate to be counted. A much different answer!

Getting IT staff to start asking broad questions is not easy. They will be giving up some efficiency, but the rewards can be great.

Do you ask pointed or broad questions? Have you ever been surprised by the answer when  you asked a broad question? How could you get your IT staff to start asking broad questions? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.