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企业保持活力的秘诀:员工多问“为什么”

更新时间:2016-7-5 20:35:06 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The Power of ‘Why?’ and ‘What If?’
企业保持活力的秘诀:员工多问“为什么”

Recently I had a conversation with a chief executive who expressed concern about several of her senior managers. They were smart, experienced, competent. So what was the problem? “They’re not asking enough questions,” she said.

最近,我和一家企业的首席执行官进行了一次交谈,她对公司的好几名高级经理感到担忧。他们聪明,有经验,也有能力。那么问题是什么呢?“他们提出的问题不够多,”她说。

This wouldn’t have been a bad thing in the business world of a few years ago, where the rules for success were: Know your job, do your work, and if a problem arises, solve it and don’t bother us with a lot of questions.

几年前,这在商业界不会被当作一件坏事,那时的成功法则是:了解你的岗位,做好你的工作,如果出现问题,就解决它,不要问太多问题,麻烦我们。

But increasingly I’m finding that business leaders want the people working around them to be more curious, more cognizant of what they don’t know, and more inquisitive — about everything, including “Why am I doing my job the way I do it?” and “How might our company find new opportunities?”

但我日渐发现商业领袖希望在他们身边工作的人能对自己不懂的东西更好奇,能更清楚地认识到自己有什么不懂,并对所有的一切更具探究精神,包括“我为什么要用自己现在这种方式做我的工作”以及“我们公司怎样才能发现新的商机”。

I may be hyper-aware of this trend because I think of myself as a “questionologist,” having studied the art of questioning and written a book about it. But I also think there are real forces in business today that are causing people to value curiosity and inquiry more than in the past.

我可能对这种趋势极为敏感,因为我觉得自己就是一个“提问学家”(questionologist),我曾经研究过提问这门艺术,还就此写了本书。不过,也觉得在当今的商业社会里,的确存在一些力量,它们导致人们比过去更看重好奇心和提问能力。

Companies in many industries today must contend with rapid change and rising uncertainty. In such conditions, even a well-established company cannot rest on its expertise; there is pressure to keep learning what’s new and anticipating what’s next. It’s hard to do any of that without asking questions.

在很多行业里,企业都必须与快速的变化和越来越大的不确定性作斗争。在这种情况下,就连一个地位稳固的企业也不能过分依赖其专长;也会有压力促使他们不断学习新东西,预测接下来会发生什么。而在不问问题的情况下是很难做到这些的。

Steve Quatrano, a member of the Right Question Institute, a nonprofit research group, explains that the act of formulating questions enables us “to organize our thinking around what we don’t know.” This makes questioning a good skill to hone in dynamic times.

非营利研究组织正确问题研究所(Right Question Institute)的成员史蒂夫·夸特拉诺(Steve Quatrano)解释说,提出问题的行为促使我们“围绕自己不懂的东西组织思维”。在快速变化的时代里,这让提问成了一种值得磨练的优秀技能。

Asking questions can help spark the innovative ideas that many companies hunger for these days. In the research for my book, I studied business breakthroughs — including the invention of the Polaroid instant camera and the Nest thermostat and the genesis of start-ups like Netflix, Square and Airbnb — and found that in each case, some curious soul looked at a current problem and asked insightful questions about why that problem existed and how it might be tackled.

提问可以激发有创意的想法,而后者正是许多企业如今渴望拥有的东西。在为著作做调查的过程中,我研究了一些商业上的突破——包括宝丽来拍立得相机和Nest温度自动调节器的发明,以及Netflix、Square和Airbnb等初创公司的起源——发现每一种情况里,都是一个好奇的灵魂看看眼前的难题,就为何会存在这个难题和可能如何解决它提出了富有洞察力的问题。

The Polaroid story is my favorite: The inspiration for the instant camera sprang from a question asked in the mid-1940s by the 3-year-old daughter of its inventor, Edwin H. Land. She was impatient to see a photo her father had just snapped, and when he tried to explain that the film had to be processed first, she wondered aloud, “Why do we have to wait for the picture?”

我最喜欢讲述的是宝丽来的例子:拍立得相机的灵感产生于发明者埃德温·H·兰德(Edwin H. Land)3岁的女儿在上世纪40年代中期提出的一个问题。她着急看到父亲刚刚拍下的一张照片,当他努力解释为何胶卷要先进行处理才能看到时,她疑惑地大声问,“为什么必须花时间等照片出来?”

One might assume that people can easily ask such questions, given that children do it so well. But research shows that question-asking peaks at age 4 or 5 and then steadily drops off, as children pass through school (where answers are often more valued than questions) and mature into adults. By the time we’re in the workplace, many of us have gotten out of the habit of asking fundamental questions about what’s going on around us. And some people worry that asking questions at work reveals ignorance or may be seen as slowing things down.

考虑到小孩都能做得这么好,有人可能会觉得人们可以很容易地提出这样的问题。但研究结果显示,提问的行为在一个人四五岁的时候达到高峰,之后随着孩子们上学(相比于提出问题,学校更看重给出答案)和长大成人,就逐渐减少。到了工作的时期,我们中的很多人已经失去了就周边的事物提出根本性问题的能力。一些人担心在工作中提问会暴露自己的无知,或者被看作拖慢进度。

So how can companies encourage people to ask more questions? There are simple ways to train people to become more comfortable and proficient at it. For example, question formulation exercises can be used as a substitute for conventional brainstorming sessions. The idea is to put a problem or challenge in front of a group of people and instead of asking for ideas, instruct participants to generate as many relevant questions as they can. Kristi Schaffner, an executive at Microsoft, regularly conducts such exercises there and says they sharpen analytical skills.

那么企业如何才能鼓励人们问更多的问题呢?有一些比较简单的训练办法,可以让人们在提问时更自在,也更娴熟。比如,可以用构思问题的训练替代传统的头脑风暴会议。方法就是在一群人面前抛出一个问题,或向他们发出挑战,让参与者尽可能多地提出相关问题,而不是要求他们就问题谈想法。微软的高管克里斯蒂·沙夫纳(Kristi Schaffner)就经常在公司进行这种训练,称它们可以增强分析技能。

Getting employees to ask more questions is the easy part; getting management to respond well to those questions can be harder. When leaders claim they want “everyone to ask more questions,” I sometimes (in my bolder moments) ask: “Do you really want that? And what will you do with those questions once people start asking them?”

让雇员问更多的问题相对容易;让管理层对这些问题做出良好的反应则更加困难。当领导人称他们希望“每个人问更多问题”时,我有时(比较大胆的时刻)会问:“你真的这么想吗?一旦人们开始发问,你准备如何应对这些问题?”

For questioning to thrive in a company, management must find ways to reward the behavior — if only by acknowledging the good questions that have been asked. For example, I visited one company that asked all employees to think of “what if” and “how might we” questions about the company’s goals and plans. Management and employees together decided which of these mission questions were best, then displayed them on banners on the walls.

为了让提问的风气在公司传播开来,管理层必须找到奖赏此类行为的办法,哪怕只是去认可被提出来的一些好问题。比如,我曾拜访过这样一家公司,它会要求所有员工就公司的目标和计划提出“如果……怎么办?”和“我们如何才能”之类的问题。管理层和员工一起决定这些任务问题中哪些是最好的,然后将它们放在横幅和墙面上。

Leaders can also encourage companywide questioning by being more curious and inquisitive themselves. This is not necessarily easy for senior executives, who are used to being the ones with the answers. I’ve noticed during questioning exercises at some companies that top executives sit in the back of the room, laptops open, attending to other business; they seem to think their employees are the only ones who need to learn. As they do this, these leaders are modeling precisely the kind of incurious behavior they’re trying to change in others.

领导者也可以通过让自身变得更好奇和更好问,来鼓励全公司的人提问。对于高管层来说,这未必容易做到,他们习惯于做知道答案的人。在一些企业进行的提问练习中,我注意到公司高层坐在房间后面,打开手提电脑,在忙其他的事;他们似乎觉得只有员工需要学习这些。这么做的时候,他们恰恰在示范自己试图改变的其他人身上存在的不爱究根问底的行为。

They could set a better example by asking “why” and “what if” — while asking others to do likewise. And as the questions proliferate, some good answers are likely to follow.

他们可以通过问“为什么”和“如果……怎么办”来树立更好的榜样,同时要求其他人也这么做。随着这些问题激增,一些好的答案可能就会冒出来。

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