Stuck in The Same Rut? Part 1: How Asking Questions Can Lead to Huge Breakthroughs

By Karen Carnahan & Marsia Gunter

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Do you find yourself stuck in a particular way of doing things? For many of us the answer is yes; whether by habit or circumstance, most of us find ourselves repeating similar patterns day to day. Some of these things are habits of action, and some are habits of thought, and some are both. For certain things this works just fine. But for things like the perception of ourselves and our long-term goals, these habits can be restricting.

It can also lead to a boxed in perception that restricts our vision of what could be—and even what is. This is the result from habits of thought or action that have become concrete.

Where Do These Habits Come From?

Sometimes, the repeated habit outlives the reason for the habit. For example, when Mitch has snow tires on his car he prefers to avoid a particular bridge because its ribbed road surface might damage the studs on the snow tires. This makes sense. But Mitch found that he continued to avoid that bridge, going to considerable trouble to develop alternate routes to work or client meetings, for weeks after the snow tires had been removed.

Why Do We Do What We Do?

Before you laugh at Mitch, ask yourself this: Do you usually drive the same route to your workplace? Why do you always go the same way? Do you know for sure that it's the fastest way? How often have you experimented with a different route? Why not?

Why Innovation and Embracing Change Matters

Innovation and the embracing of change are essential for real vitality and growth. So is exploration and discovery, as anyone knows who has ever watched a child explore new territory or put things together in new ways. Yet the skills that served us so well when we were young are largely abandoned by our adult selves, and we get caught up in having to do things "the right way".

There Are Many Right Answers

In A Whack on the Side of the Head Roger Von Oech says that much of our educational system is geared toward teaching people the "one right answer". By the time the average person finishes college, he or she will have taken over 2,600 tests, quizzes and exams. Thus, the "right answer" approach becomes deeply ingrained in our thinking. This may be fine for some mathematical problems where there is in fact only one right answer. The difficulty is that most of life, including business, doesn't present itself in this way. Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers - all depending on what you are looking for. But if you think there is only one right answer, then you will stop looking as soon as you find one.

Looking at Something With a Fresh Mind

Part of mastery as a leader and as a business owner is being able and willing to look at things with a fresh mind, rather than just with the eyes of prior experience or knowledge or habit. Innovation and creativity are cornerstones to continuous improvement, so it is essential that we practice thinking differently.

One way to do this is by asking "What if?" questions. What if we turned this chair upside down? What could it then do? What if we extended our service hours until midnight - what then could happen? What if we had no office and all worked from our homes - what would we then produce as results? What if we gave up the assumption that people only pay their bills after 30 days and asked for money within 10 days - what might happen?

In our next blog, we will demonstrate an exercise that can help you see things from a fresh perspective. In the meantime—try practicing a few “What if?” questions like the ones posed above. Questions always lead to greater possibilities.

Are you interested in taking a more active role in shaping the future for yourself, your company or your organization? Explore the future you want to create through ongoing coaching to develop business growth strategies, professional leadership development and business ownership, and transitioning your business for the next generation. We believe in the future you envision, and stand with you to help achieve it. 

Marsia Gunter