The First Four Questions

If someone can give a clear, affirmative answer to the following four questions, then I usually can help them with their problem:

  1. What is it exactly that you’re seeking to do?
  2. What are the positive effects of doing this?
  3. What are the negative effects of NOT doing this?
  4. How realistic are your expectations of being able to do this?

Required Reading: Analyzing Performance Problems ISBN 1879618176These four questions are derived from the book, Analyzing Performance Problems by Robert Mager and Peter Pipe.  A couple of years ago I wrote a post that praised the book (and, of course, critiqued certain elements of it… gotta keep that independent thinking hat on…) you can read that here — and I have to say:  Yes, after getting into the habit of asking the book’s simple little questions on a regular basis (along with some questions from some other books), it’s helped develop my intuition as a problem-solver.

Despite — or perhaps because of — its dumbed-down simplicity, I consider the book required reading for current or aspiring managers, leaders, parents, advisors, consultants, trainers or instructional designers.  If you’re looking to get smarter about navigating life & people problems, if your job requires you to develop and guide others, this is book is critical.

It’s not rocket science… heck, it’s mostly common sense… yet, somehow I find that it provides a great handrail that allows for improved leaps of intuition.

The key is to take the book’s flowchart of closed YES-NO questions and treat them as open-ended questions with probabilistic relationships between the levels.

For example, instead of asking “Are our expectations realistic?”  (page 20… if the answer is “no” then stop) and holding on to that question before proceeding with the logic flow,  ask “How realistic are our expectations?” and continue with the analysis even if the answer is not definitive. In this case, keep in mind the possibility of unrealistic expectations as your proceed with the analysis, though, because as tempting as a quick fix may be (page 40), it still may not be worth the effort.

Another example:  Instead of asking, “Do they have what it takes?” (page 141… if the answer is “no” then replace them), ask “What’s the likelihood that they’ll be able to sufficiently change?”  and, even if the answer is not definitive, proceed with the analysis of what it would take to make that change (page 149). Once again, keep in mind the possibility that everyone may be better off without taking on a Sisyphean task.

Ultimately, the first four questions boil down to two:  “What do you want to do?”  and “Is it worth doing?”

Everything else is mere commentary… and experience… and, okay, a bit of intuition too.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on March 12, 2013, in Business, Coaching, Learning, Management, Productivity, Risk Management and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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