Are you asking the wrong question about the wrong problem? It's hard to create a breakthrough by pressing in the wrong place.
In my previous post, I discussed how confirmation bias (the tendency we all have to look for data to reinforce what we already think is true) obstructs innovation by having us operate from obsolete mental programs.
In the film adaptation of the Michael Lewis book Moneyball, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) faces the challenge of rebuilding his team on a limited budget after his three marquee players leave the team for massive payouts by richer teams. In a pivotal scene of the movie, the scouts are locked in a business-as-usual discussion about how to replace the players with the money they have, a conventional question that led to conventional answers lacking interesting strategic insight. (Take the 4 minutes to watch the clip; it's worth a watch.)
The movie sets forth an interesting philosophical argument about where real value exists and where flighty trends might be distracting decision makers. The premise of the movie is simple: in an environment of budget constraints, the question is not about how to replace expensive players but how to lower the price per win. If we are asking how we lower the price per win–a question relevant outside the business of sport–we would have to start delving into how wins are made. The thesis put forth in the film was that the primary offensive value of a player–the best leading indicator of success–is his on-base percentage (OBP). Getting on on base by whatever means leads to runs and generating more runs than the competition wins games. Looking at a player's salary demand and OBP allowed for an economic evaluation of the cost of getting on base (the cost of getting on base as the primary input cost for a win). While Lewis later admitted that this strategy does not make up for a gap in defensive skills, and the playoffs operate on greater platform of luck, it did prove itself out as an algorithm, until of course its competitive advantage was erased by its adoption by more teams.
The key to success is often not what we think it is. There is always a risk that we are stuck in an old paradigm with stale programming about what might have worked in the past but no longer works. This kind of cognitive distortion led me to a four part process for generating strategic insight:
1. What are you stressed about? This is a clue to what the underlying challenge is. The moment I set forth a mission for some part of my world a challenge inevitably appears. Seeing the stress or challenge as an opportunity is a positive reframe.
2. What is the real problem? There are root problems and superficial ones. Getting to the cause and not just the symptom is the start of real insight.
3. What is your pressing question about your challenge? Converting a stress (losing marquee players) into a strategic question (how do lower our price per win?) moves our brain out of the problem-space and into the solution-space. Your brain will answer whatever question you ask it, eventually.
4. Is this the best best question to ask? Designing questions and getting to root causes is iterative and takes some time and reflection.
What is your big strategic question? My current book, strangely enough is on the topic of designing really great questions and overcoming conformation bias. I have priced each book at $19.64. A single great question can lead to a massive increase in wealth and fulfillment. Where's your breakthrough? Order yours here.