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It is amazing how influential you can be in selling your ideas if you can capture the imagination of your audience. People will think differently, overcome their internal resistance, and commit themselves to new and more effective ways of doing business. One path to the imagination is to ask questions that begin with, “What if?” and “why not?” “What if everyone used credit/debit cards and we eventually had a cashless society?” “What if we could find a way to distribute food resources and in so doing ended world hunger? What if we could create applications that make our customers wildly successful? Why not create an education system that gives every qualified student a shot at graduating from college?
Example from History
Robert Kennedy once inspired a nation by asking a powerful question, “Some people see things the way they are and ask why? I see things the way they could be and ask “why not?” By challenging his audience to imagine a better world (the ways things could be…), Kennedy invited them to think differently, to not accept the status quo. By then asking the simple question, “Why not?” Kennedy removed the constraints that hold us back from pursuing dreams by reminding us that we all have the power to overcome obstacles to achieve our goals. The result? As a nation we were inspired to set higher goals and persevere in reaching them. Asking powerful questions that challenge our conventional way of thinking can give us hope and awaken the latent possibilities within us. Moreover, posing questions that challenge us to become personal agents of change empower us to act.
The Executive’s Dilemma
As a highly gifted IT executive Jane was familiar with the challenge of selling her original ideas to more senior stakeholders many of whom had little understanding of the technology involved. In her early years she strongly believed that the facts alone of her argument would speak for themselves. Her batting average for getting ideas adopted using analytical arguments was about average. But then a colleague encouraged her to paint verbal pictures as well by ask pointed questions beginning with the words, “Imagine if….? “Imagine if our customers could go to our company website and apply for a mortgage and get an immediate answer to their request?” The asking of the question touched several issues in her audience. There was no mention of the needed technology or turf battles over the allocation of the budget for key projects. Her question would,
- Meet a primary corporate goal of customer satisfaction.
- Break the gridlock in the budget allocation debate and refocus on business priorities.
- Focus on a “can do” approach
- Provoke curiosity in the audience around a challenge they themselves had faced personally.
- View the problem they faced in a whole new way.
- Pull them in as architects of highly desired solutions.
- What innovative ideas do you have that potentially solve major technical, business, or people challenges in your organization?
- What sort of resistance have you run into from major stakeholders that keeps your idea from getting off the ground?
- What burning question, (What if? Or Imagine when?), could you ask that will bypass the resistance and actually turn your opponents into supporters?