By Naomi Raja Boean for Enlivening Edge
How can questions help us become more happy and successful in our professional life? How do we become more insightful in moments when we are stuck yet want to explore an issue? And how can we invite support for life change in an online learning setting?
You’re invited to explore those questions and to join in finding your own powerful questions which will support your professional development.
Consider the advice given by James Ryan, Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, in this speech to grads about being successful and happy in life: Ask yourself questions, often.
He sums up some core questions up in the following order:
- What, what? To clarify an issue
- I wonder why, I wonder if? To improve the world
- Couldn’t we at least? To get unstuck
- How can I help?
- What truly matters?
Asking ourselves questions helps us make sense of things, and guides our thinking. Asking questions drives learning and development.
Hanna Arendt, a political philosopher writing about Nazi Germany, reminded us that it is a human responsibility to think and not blindly obey. If questions and thinking are closely connected, it becomes even more crucial to ask ourselves questions.
Our thoughts are shaped by our mental models, and thoughts lead to actions. Our mental models are the deeply-held assumptions about the world which are formed through our experience, genetics and culture. These elements create a filter, a frame of our thoughts, words, and actions (Butler 2008).
Questions are powerful because they challenge these assumptions and filters through which we make sense of the world. Questions help us widen the way we think and act. In that way, asking questions can be regarded as a philosophical practice, using Richard Prechts’ (2015) description of philosophy: “Philosophy is no science but is a practice… its goal is to widen the frame in which we think and live”.
However, even as we wonder and ponder about our questions, we do so within our existing frame of thinking, not coming up with something new. We stay in our little world, constrained by our own mental models.
How can we get out of this frame of thinking, into new and unknown territory? How can we create an online space which is intimate and helps individuals, in a group setting, share, support each other, and expand ideas and thinking? What happens when we come together and share our heartfelt questions as a group?
Those questions are what some of us asked ourselves, so we started the my meaningful work programme, an online programme of 8 sessions where people can explore their heartfelt questions together.
Our approach involves two very effective methods: action learning and storytelling.
Action learning is a conversational method which is based on exploring an issue through questions. Questions are in the centre, and help to explore assumptions. You often come out of a session with a question which is different from the one you thought you were asking.
Storytelling has been a means of human expression for as long as anyone can tell. Harrison Monarth says: “Life happens in the narrative we tell one another”. Storytelling helps us make sense of the complex realities we are part of. There are many ways to apply storytelling with intent. In our approach, we use storytelling because it invites connection in the group and everyone can benefit from finding patterns, stimulating imagination, and generating ideas (Dincheva et al, 2015).
By bringing those two approaches together and by meeting in a peer group for 8 sessions on a weekly basis, we co-create conditions for building trust in the group, for listening deeply, and for being able to ask powerful questions to help each other further. That this quality of communication could happen online is something I would not have thought possible!
If you are interested in experiencing it yourself to widen your frame of thinking, we look forward to meeting you online.
If you are interested in how you could use the My Meaningfulwork programme or other action learning offers in your organization, please contact us at [email protected].
- Butler, Ann. 2008. Wired for Change: Leveraging Insights from Biology. The System Thinker 19, nr. 9: 10–11.
- Dincheva et al. 2015. Storytelling for Sustainability Practitioners. BTH: Karlskrona
- James Ryan, 5 Essential Questions in Life, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW0NguMGIbE
- Monarth, Harrison. 2014. The irresistible power of storytelling as a strategic business tool. HBR
Naomi Raja Boean is fascinated by next-stage organisation practices and sustainability. After completing her Masters she joined pro action learning Ltd. to support hosting and moderating (online) engagements for enlivening practices. She loves to energize and engage meaningful conversations and is introducing the “Buurtzorg” concept for Health Care LINK in Germany, which is her current home base.