Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Perfect Question

In the story of Parsifal, the hero ("the consultant") meets someone with a problem ("the client"). The inexperienced Parsifal is reluctant to ask too many questions, and so fails to ask the one critical question. Afterwards, he learns that merely asking this question would have solved the problem.

Actually that's not so far-fetched. As a consultant, I have sometimes happened upon the perfect question. Once I was investigating disappointing productivity figures in a large German firm. The project managers told me it was the fault of the tools and methods group. The tools and methods group blamed the project managers. I sought out the boss of the division and asked an innocent question: Who is actually responsible for productivity? My question triggered a management decision that addressed the problem.

Two things to note here. Sometimes the consultant needs to answer questions, not just ask them. And sometimes the consultant needs to get on with the job, rather than fantasize about finding the perfect question. Parsifal couldn't ask the right question until the time was right.

Towards the end of the tale, Parsifal gets a second chance. In some versions of the story, even though he now knows the proper question to ask, he chooses to ask a different question, a more personal one. It turns out that the authentic question is just as good, if not better, than the perfect question.

Quite so.

Related Post: Asking Stupid Questions (Feb 2013)

Updated 9 Feb 2016

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