Category Archives: Inquiry

Day 288 – Retroactive Inquiry

Looking back at my post from yesterday, I’d like to say that I really don’t see curiosity as being mutually exclusive to critical thinking skills, although my post (written in a hot and crowded room when I was in a bad mood) could be interpreted that way. After all, as Walter Kotschnig said, “Keep your minds open but not so open that your brains fall out.”

This morning, in a cooler, quieter place, it struck me that the idea that managers earn and deserve their tens of million in compensation could be a good point to practice Inquiry on. Some possible questions:

Data selection step

  • What cases are you thinking of?
  • What criteria for determining compensation are you using?
  • How do you see the job, skill set, contribution, etc., of top managers?
  • What are you comparing their responsibilities to?

Adding meanings step

  • What do you think happens when those amounts of compensation are not paid?
  • How do you see the connection between the skill set and so on and the amounts paid?

Drawing conclusions step

  • What do people get paid for? or Why do companies pay salaries?

Taking action step

  • How can we establish appropriate pay scales, in your opinion?
  • What systems can we set up to make that work?


With special thanks to Quote Investigator for the original source of that quotation:  I thought erroneously that it was from Carl Sagan.

Day 284 – Shouldn’t go there either

A week or so ago, I wrote about getting sucked into controversial discussions on Facebook, especially when what one posts challenges the general stance of the thread. Curiosity in this context almost invariably faces a very quick and sometimes violent death. Yesterday I was spending a wonderful afternoon catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in ages. Everything was peaceful and, yes, curious until someone just had to start talking about politics. Even in that group, where we are all on more or less the same side of the aisle, so to speak, we managed to get into a couple of wrangles about how the current political situation not only in the U.S.A. came about and how to fix it.

If you remember, “wrangle” is a word I use in connection with Inquiry. I’d like to build my Inquiry skills so that when it looks as if we’re getting into a wrangle the conversation can become informative and broaden everyone’s perspective rather than just further entrench everyone in their views. That didn’t happen yesterday.

Day 246 – Something else that makes Inquiry difficult

Something that makes Inquiry difficult for me is when the other person treats my points as baseless and ridiculous and implies that I am naive for thinking the way I do.

I know that Inquiry could help here. I could come across as mature and truly constructive, but as surely as Zidane rose to Materazzi’s bait at the 2006 World Cup so do I rise.

Back to the drawing board …

Day 244 – Suspending

I had dinner with friends yesterday. One friend and I see differently on the subject of being American. I have long had my problems with U.S. American culture and she, even after over 30 years in Austria, thinks the U.S. is great, possibly the greatest country in the world.

Usually when this topic comes up and she makes a cryptic remark about places she would never want to live I close down thinking she simply has an overly rosy view of life in the U.S. This time I suspended judgment, looked at her inquiringly, and waited. And I was rewarded. It turned out that she was thinking in particular of Saudi Arabia and what her rights as a woman would be and meant specifically that she would not want to live there. I’m glad I waited. I understand better now.

Day 236 – Did I learn anything from the Inquiry Challenge?

I did learn something, even if I don’t feel I improved my live Inquiry skills.

Most importantly: Although focusing more specifically on Inquiry did not help me use the formal structure in conversations, it did help me recognize sooner when I was judging someone and shutting down, which enabled me to open up again to practice at least the mindset of Inquiry and curiosity. That is a better outcome, I think, than if I had perfected the structure of formal Inquiry but left out the mindset!

As almost an aside: I’ve started to think that although I love the Ladder of Inference it may not be the best teaching tool for the kinds of questions I’d like my students to ask when they disagree with others. On Day 231 I upended the structure and put the Data Selection step at the top. Seen as a Ladder that is perhaps not the image Chris Argyris, author of the model, wanted to convey. However, I might find it easier to work with and to teach the concepts if I represented it as an onion, where the speaker’s conclusion is the heart of the onion and the questions are designed to help us get through the layers to the core of someone’s worldview.

I need to think about this a bit.

Day 235 – Last day of the Inquiry challenge

Again I have been out partying, in a mild, middle-aged way. Today it was afternoon tea at a friend’s house.

A few days ago, I wrote that I found it easier to practice Inquiry because I know the person well and so trust her judgment. Today another side of friendship came up–the fact that we have a history with someone and know the points they keep coming back to. It can be easy to inwardly roll one’s eyes when a friend gets into one of his or her typical grooves. I’m sure there are times they inwardly roll their eyes when I do this.

This time I decided to listen and, in the spirit of Inquiry, suspend the inner eye rolling, and to enjoy simply being together. And I had a really nice afternoon.