48 - How to run strategy meetings without authority (aka how to spark disconfirming analysis for better decisions)



When you’re running any consequential discussion among business leaders, as a young professional you may find yourself in one of two situations: the discussion converges too quickly OR it moves around in circles. The best way for you to drive the discussion is to steer it in the right direction. And that direction is away from preconceived position-taking AND toward open exploration.

The goal of asking good questions should not be to appear intelligent or to make sure answers aren’t vague.

The goal is to study both the seen and the unseen.

If you’re in a position to influence but you don’t have authority, you want to turn the collective attention to the unseen.

I used to kick things off by setting the table and sharing the dinner menu with all guests until I realized my guests will just have what they want to have in the order they prefer. It is natural to become frustrated or judgmental in such a moment. If you’re like me, a small change can help you.

The desire for group harmony often shows itself in narrow problem framing (‘X is the only viable option so the question really is should we do X or not’). On the other hand, endless debate often springs from not knowing (or not agreeing on) the most important thing, so you have people, like at a party, arguing about completely different things without realizing so.

Roger Matin, author of The Opposable Mind, suggests issuing the decision-making group a simple challenge without challenging their world view. This is how you could frame it.

‘Let’s stop for a moment debating which option is best or which view is right. Let’s take each option on the table and ask: What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer? What is the evidence that would convince us about an option?’

The question works in two ways: it draws attention away from the beliefs of the answerer and it triggers a search for conditions in which an option is the best one.

A belief-based discussion is seldom productive. An evidence-focused exploration is almost always is. The way to make that switch is through a simple reframing.

So the next time you want to spark disconfirming views without appearing contrarian, ask out loud ‘What would have to be true for this to be right?’

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