“What Am I Missing?”

Big data
The key question about big data, economists reveal, is not “What did I measure?” but “What did I miss?”  However, the question has a lot more value than merely its role in big data. Indeed, when well-placed in a problem-solving conversation, there are few questions more important.

Why is “what am I missing?” so rarely used? It’s not because people are ignorant of its words and syntax, because it’s off the radar screen, or even because some of its values are misunderstood and out-of-awareness. It’s about the question’s underlying psychology of personal vulnerability that tracks back to the industrial age. Thus, vulnerability is inevitably understood in terms of getting taken advantage of, getting hurt and losing power. And so in business, there is a positive allergy to questions, statements or admissions that imply personal vulnerability.  But in today’s world of flattened hierarchies, vulnerability is a metaphor that needs to be eviscerated of its industrial age power.

The values of “what am I missing?
The question is empowering. It instills in its respondent(s) a sense that they are capable and knowledgeable. It sends the message of respect and that the other person’s ideas are perhaps better than the asker’s. But there are a number of other highly useful values to the question.

First, open-ended questions like this correlate with creativity. Research reveals strongly that creativity is a transactional process among individuals and especially among diverse groups. So asking the question provides significant potential for creative problem solving.

Furthermore, the question encourages others’ development as thinkers and problem solvers. Indeed, when you’re working on a team, the question delivers both short-term and long-term value: the short-term value of generating a solution to the issue at hand and the long-term value of reinforcing mutual empowerment. The question is actually a tool for handling similar situations in the future and develops relationships of expertise. In contrast, disempowering questions like “who’s to blame for this mess?” undercuts the confidence of those to whom it’s asked and sabotages performance.

The question also creates clarity, providing potential for further insight into a problem. Added to that, it helps team members, including the asker, to think analytically and critically. As such the question can inspire and enable people to reflect and see things in fresh and unpredictable ways. That consequence encourages breakthrough thinking and often challenges assumptions

Finally, the question is highly useful for creating ownership of solutions. With ownership, the team members can be far more united in both their support as well as their selling of a solution, a very important issue in today’s organizations.

The leadership reflected in asking this question can enable the entire unit when fresh challenges arise. “What am I missing?” can be pure gold in the work world, and not a question to avoid.  It’s a question for everyone’s toolkit.

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