Progress by Asking Better Questions

Progress is Asking Better QuestionsOctober 5, 2010

Basic arithmetic has definitive answers. Most other problems are only resolved using countermeasures that take us to a better state, presuming that we agree on what might be “better.” If we can’t do that, our problems run deeper than tough technical issues. Given this difficulty, we’re making progress when we arrive at a new state from which all involved can ask deeper questions.

This sounds like a logical, benign philosophy, if a bit pedantic.

Implications are less benign if our old systems of thought cannot welcome this concept of progress, or worse, are threatened by it. Changing a system of thought implies re-framing our view of the world, a learning experience of such intensity that we must be strongly motivated to do it. Compression presents many reasons for such a shift. However, reasoning by itself does not create energy –motivate – while emotion without knowledgeable reasoning merely creates uproar.

Humanity’s current work systems do not promote learning to create a good quality of life for all of a bigger global population. Actually pursuing this objective has to be at the local, action level where we “do things.” There we have to learn how to change processes faster than ever before, but major process change also entails human conflicts of interest, no matter what technical advances we devise. Therefore, dealing with Compression also necessitates “improving” ourselves. Progress is a sequence of states from which we collectively ask better questions, not overcome by fear, and not falsely comforted by temporary stability of a status quo.

Old systems of thought become obsolete when they no longer press us to do what is necessary. But old systems don’t displace instantly. Those benefitting from them loathe any change, while those creating new ones have to learn quickly and demonstrate why they are better. Exercising too much emotion persuading people to go a new direction easily slides into misrepresenting supporting evidence. Exchanges of hot air don’t accomplish anything either.

Techniques to dry up this behavioral quagmire are not new. Many people have developed them and used them for years, but they are certainly not part of all work organizations’ regular approaches to problem resolution.

At work, a legacy from lean and quality development is that we learn by doing; that is, we learn to think differently through practicing different work methods and techniques. We thereby learn that we can accomplish things we might have thought were impossible until we did them. That stage was instructive when others understood why much better than we, but the most valuable legacy of lean and quality, where it was done, was developing people to learn rapidly and almost autonomously.  In Compression, that ability has to multiply.

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