Looking For the Right Answer? You May Be Asking the Wrong Question.


Hacking Your Future is a free weekly memo that provides readers with practical and applicable tips for uncovering their future success. Readers are challenged to re-imagine their personal and professional narratives, goals, and objectives, and re-invent their lives and work in a manner consistent with their new vision of the future.

This weeks focal point: One of the greatest challenges that leaders have when it comes to thinking about the future is determining how to address large scale issues within the context of their local communities and organizations. Too often the voices we hear addressing these issues tend to oversimplify these complex issues because it is easy, low risk, and palatable to the public. Unfortunately, this does nothing to address the real issues each community and organization faces as it looks forward.

Last week I had the opportunity to ask a group of community leaders what the biggest areas of concern about the future were for them. The following are just a few of the answers they gave:

*   Prosperity at the expense of personal freedoms

*   Loss of privacy and anonymity

*   Decrease in communication and genuine human interaction

*   Resource scarcity and sustainability

*   Rising popularity in extremism

*   Partisan politics impeding progress

*   Surmounting student loan debt and employability of the younger generation

These concerns often seem too far beyond our grasp to address, so instead we focus on the many seemingly “urgent” issues that are continuously popping up. However, these numerous tedious issues often result from the larger scale issues we feel unequipped to address. In order for we as leaders to address large scale concerns and the potential implications those issues may have on the local community, we must learn to identify the real questions.

It is all too easy to oversimplify these issues by asking one-dimensional questions, such as:

“How will increasing political polarization impact the future growth of our community?” This question by itself fails to address the complexity of the issues and the unique areas of concern each community faces. Instead, focus on a specific area to address, such as economic development. If one of your community’s major economic drivers is higher education, then we would want to focus our question on a particular aspect of higher education as it relates to politics and government. This could make your question look something like this:

“How will increasing political polarization impact the availability and allocation of state and federal funding for higher education?”

Now, you have a question that addresses real issues and demands real, thoughtful, and meaningful answers. In order to truly answer a question of this nature, you will need a multidimensional approach that includes the input and expertise of those who understand the inner-workings of higher education, those who understand the process and procedures around state and local funding, and those who are experienced in government and trained in public policy.

It’s far too easy to accept oversimplified answers to complex issues and concerns about the future, but great leaders throughout history accepted that there are no easy answers when the real issues are being addressed.

The Fulcrum: Leadership today does not rest on the shoulders of one individual. Instead it requires multiple points of view and expertise of those that have a stake in the long-term success of the community.

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Check out my podcast series called The Futurist on iTunes.

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© J.P Nichols & Associates Inc. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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