Archive for September, 2011

Great Questions – Better Strategy

September 18, 2011

Asking great questions is a powerful technique for many reasons.

Because strategy is a fundamental issue in any organization’s performance – asking the right questions can be critical in assessing strengths, confusion and inefficiencies.

Seven Strategy Questions

Harvard professor Charles Williams wrote Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution. Here, I’ve adapted his questions to address multiple sectors.

 1. Who is your organization’s target audience – the primary beneficiary of the value you seek to create?

2. How do organization values influence prioritization of stakeholders?

3. Which performance variables are most influential and are they carefully monitored?

4. What do you signal is in or out with the choices you make?

5. How are you ensuring connections inside your organization with external realities?

6. Is employee commitment to help each other robust?

7. What difficult uncertainties cause persistent, sleepless anxiety for leadership?


If you and others answer these questions – the same – your strategy will be better and shared. Ask them often, as needed, change the answers. Williams has advice about how to ask questions. He suggests questions are:

Posed face-to-face to encourage authentic engagement.

Asked throughout the organization, not just at the top.

Essential tools for functional leaders since they are central to performance.

A vital way to debate what is right, not who is right.

A prompt for new actions.

Question  Avoidance

When it’s not safe or appropriate to ask questions openly, performance suffers. Symptoms can include poor coordination, confusion, redundancy, and low achievement. Communities, organizations and people unwilling or unable to ask questions pose special challenges. This often indicates a lack of accountability. Performance doesn’t matter enough.

We spend lots of time generating questions, thinking about them, seeking answers to them with and for others. They’re central to our enterprise. Questions about strategy are an important feature of a high-performance culture. They can provoke thinking, decisions and action. Welcome them. Learn from them.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and  W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more, see :

A Critical Choice: Innovate or Stagnate?

September 12, 2011

In the knowledge economy, innovation is the Holy Grail. It’s critical to survival.

     Are you an innovator?

     Can you and your organization learn to be more innovative?

Clay Christensen, author of The Innovators Dilemma is well known for the term “disruptive innovation.” This framework describes the process by which a product or service takes root, initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market, and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, to displace established competitors. 

Five Practices

Christensen and his colleagues have identified five practices that are common to innovators.

Associating. Connecting different factors is often a result of new experiences that bring an epiphany. Travel, volunteering, music  and reading can provoke thinking that generates creative associations.

Questioning. The constant effort of asking why…How can we improve? How can we change? This is about a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Observing. Data gathering is sensing what can be improved or changed. Watching and understanding are important features of observation. This requires a healthy curiosity.

Networking. Collecting, sifting, and sorting ideas is the focus of exchange with other people. Actively seek “mind-candy.” It’s not about social relations with people, but new thinking.

Experimenting. Toggling back and forth with new combinations of features and re-purposing are important ways to conduct trials. The more the better.

Knower or Learner?

We have come to believe that people can be characterized as “knowers” or “learners.” Learners actively seek new and better information from the world around them. They understand what they don’t know, are not afraid to explore different paradigms and they embrace innovation. Learners have nimble minds. Learners innovate, knowers stagnate.

An Innovation Culture

When assessing your workplace for an innovation culture consider these (and other) queries:

  • Are there opportunities and time for exposure to diverse disciplines, and new ways of thinking?
  • Do you and others signal a big appetite for questions about improvement and change?
  • Is reflection about what’s happening and why encouraged and routine?
  • Is there new information, heterogeneous groupings and cross-discipline work that draws on resources from inside and outside the organization?
  • What portion of work is designed, planned, executed as a test, a study or a proof?

While Christensen suggests that  disruptive innovation may require a sort of genius and rare hero-leader, we can all be a part of “incremental innovation.” It’s an intentional attitude about disciplined learning that sets the stage for important strides forward.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

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