One thing I like about teaching is that I almost always at some point have the chance to practice live Inquiry.
Today the topic was leadership–what the participants think of Nelson Mandela’s leadership and, above all, why. I did one of my favorite activities with them. I sketched out the Ladder of Inference in masking tape on the floor and had the participants ask each other Inquiry questions tailored to the rung the person was standing on. We always learn a lot about the topic at hand by exploring how others see it–what data they select, what meanings they add to that, what conclusions they draw, and what actions they think should be taken. For example, I learned from one participant how important it was to him that Mandela made small talk to connect with people first, before moving onto business.
The exercise was fun and interesting.
After the 10-day Inquiry challenge I did, I wrote that although I did not practice a structured form of Inquiry very much during those 10 days, I did practice the mindset. That, I felt, was more important.
Similarly, at the end of the workshop just I taught, I asked the participants to say what they were taking away from the course. I use a stuffed turtle named Harry as a talking stick. That means that no one is allowed to speak while someone else is holding Harry, including me. I found myself listening with a high level of interest and openness to what was being said, with the primary goal of understanding what people were saying. In other words, I practiced inquiry without saying a word. As simple as that.
I may not have mentioned that the sentences I work on in my Inquiry journal are quite often, in fact, things that I believe. This means that it gives me the chance not only to understand others better but also to understand my own worldviews better. Quite a boon.
It occurred to me that my last post may seem a bit strange. I wrote about genuinely trying to understand the other person and yet I’m writing in a book with no one else around. However, I notice myself that it makes a difference whether I write the questions as if they were the answers in a homework assignment (on auto-pilot) or whether I feel a sense of curiosity–what could that person be thinking of?–while I write. Obviously, it’s the latter state I am trying to achieve in my practice.
Not for the first time I’ve realized the danger of placing something like “practice curiosity” or “Inquiry journal” on my to-do list–it’s too easy to just do the activity mindlessly to be able to check it off. What I most appreciated at the end of my 10-day Inquiry challenge was that although I didn’t practice formal Inquiry very often at least I was noticing more quickly when I got into judgmental mode and was able to intentionally open up my mind somewhat.
This morning I was writing my usual entry in my Inquiry journal and I realized that I was doing it very much like an exercise in a language lab, automatically. That is the antithesis of Inquiry, which Senge & Co. define as listening to genuinely understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings. Right. Time that I pay attention to doing my Inquiry practice in the spirit of Inquiry.
Quite a long day with lots of opportunities to practice at least a certain level of curiosity–working with a new colleague, on a new program, with several new exercises, and a fairly long section on Inquiry. I took those opportunities and am now tired and on my way to bed. 😉
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: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/04/13/open-mind/ I thought erroneously that it was from Carl Sagan.