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Matthew E. May

Quality Insider

The Year of the Question

Emphasizing learnership over leadership

Published: Monday, January 19, 2015 - 01:00


As I contemplate the year ahead and the changes I’d like to bring about, I hereby by dub 2015 the “Year of the Question.” If I know anything after a half-century on this planet, it’s that we all live our lives in constant and continuous pursuit of answers to questions that occupy our minds—forever learning, forever in search of knowledge at many levels. Although we’re generally successful in answering the questions we ask, we often either don’t ask the right questions, or don’t give the right questions much thought.

Which begs the big question of what are the right questions? I think they are those that contribute to our ability to say “yes” with conviction to the one question we will all ask ourselves at some point in the future: “Have I made the most of what I have to offer the world?” It’s a question of impact and leads to the lifelong odyssey in pursuit of the underlying question: “What must I know and do to live a life of true impact?”

These questions put us in the most important of all frames of mind: learning. Lifelong learning, or “learnership,” to coin a term. It may be the softest skill known, but it’s also arguably the most critical.

Here’s the rub: We live in a world that, from the moment we enter the school system, rewards answers. It’s a world that dilutes the power of inquiry. In response, I propose we spend this year engaging in the very activity that re-engages the one universal trait we were born with: natural curiosity.

Let’s emphasize learnership over leadership.

If by chance you’re like me (and perhaps most people at this time of the year), you’re contemplating the future and the changes required to produce a new, different, and better one. Allow me therefore to suggest a pause. Take a break from your bias for action. I have a few questions for you—actually, 10. And they’re brutal. Ruthless, even.

I’m sure you’ve given one or two of these some cursory attention, or assume others on your team or in your organization have, but my bet is you’re already charging into 2015 all gung-ho on changing your world without pondering these en masse. What if you stepped back, took a moment, and devoted a bit of energy to arriving at honest answers?

1. What’s really driving our need for change?
2. What new aspirations guide our goals?
3. What truth is not being addressed?
4. What do we need to understand better?
5. What new ways of thinking and acting are needed to support this change?
6. How will we facilitate the development of these new behaviors?
7. To what degree do we truly understand and own the change process?
8. What are major learning objectives that support our change effort?
9. What new perceptions, values, and experiences will be critical to our success?
10. What is the most positive way in which we can proceed?

How would your planned change, er, change, if you answered all 10 honestly?


About The Author

Matthew E. May’s picture

Matthew E. May

Matthew E. May counsels executives and teams through custom designed facilitation, coaching, and training using four basic ingredients: strategy, ideation, experimentation, and lean. He’s been counseling for 30 years, a third of it as a full-time advisor to Toyota. He is the author of four books, the latest The Laws of Subtraction (McGraw-Hill, 2013), and is working on his fifth book. His work has been appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and many other publications. May holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.