Your choice should depend on the situation, whether you are exchanging information, seeking the solution to a problem, interviewing or counselling.
But before we speak about questions, we need to take a step backward. I believe that we need to first understand the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROBLEM AND A DECISION.
A problem is a "train off a track". Something has not gone the way it was planned or expected to. Problem solving is finding out the reasons why and the possibility of getting things back on track. Decisions are about deciding which alternative is best.
To become adept at solving problems you need to master both analytical and creative problem solving techniques, so that you can ask the relevant questions. For instance there are times when you need to ask objective questions – these are to ask for specific information. "What evidence do you have for that conclusion?" "How have you been handling this process?" "What factors are necessary to raise your Customer Satisfaction Index?"
Problem Solving questions – ask these when you want action ideas. "What should you do next?" "How would you implement the steps we just discussed?"
"Why are we so much better at answering questions than at answering the right questions? Is it because we are trained at school and university to answer questions that others have asked? If so, should we be trained to ask questions?" [Or trained to ask the complete set of right questions in the right way?] Trevor Kletz (Analog Science Fiction, January 1994, p195)
One of the problems with looking for solutions to problems is that we always come to a problem with our years of experience behind us. This can sometimes direct our thinking down certain familiar paths, and we can miss other paths which might lead to better solutions.
When people do this, always tell them this quote – In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few — Shunryu Suzuki
One way to help overcome this tendency is to force yourself to approach a problem from a completely different point of view. Alex Osborn in his pioneering book Applied Imagination talks about "Questions as spurs to ideation", and outlines about 75 idea-spurring questions in his book.
The simplest set of questions comes from the six basic questions:
- Why is it necessary?
- Where should it be done?
- When should it be done?
- Who should do it?
- What should be done?
- How should it be done?
Osborn went on with the following questions:
Adapt? Modify? Substitute? Magnify/Maximise? Minimise/Eliminate? Rearrange? Reversal? Combine?
Start applying these questions to your problems and see what ideas come forth.
In your quest for learning to ask different questions, you should read Michael Michalko’s book Thinkertoys in which he describes the rearrangement of the above questions into the mnemonic SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Reverse)
You should also consider the 7s Mckinsey Framework. My own perspective is that the type of decision isn’t as important, as knowing the questions to consider, or having a good model which shows different considerations to explore.
- What’s the impact on people?
- What’s the impact on process?
- Impact on Technology?
- Impact on the marketplace?
- Impact on the business?
- Impact on Reputation, Trust & Integrity?
The best I believe is a combination of a systematic and creative approach to problem solving and decision-making. Understanding different models of thinking will enable you to look different at every situation or to apply the right question to the right problem.
As someone once said: "Solutions often lies in the question not asked".