At the 2008 Oscars, boring as they were, there was one interesting acceptance speech. Brad Bird, winning for Best Animated Film, thanked his middle school guidance counselor.
He then recited what sounded like a frequent dialogue between this 13 year-old and his frustrated counselor:
What do you want to do? Make movies.
What if you can’t do it? I’ll figure out how to make movies.
What if there weren’t movies? I’ll make movies.
What if you couldn’t do it? I’ll figure out how to make movies.
He credited his skeptic advisor with preparing him for cynical Hollywood. What he meant was that his middle school guidance counselor helped “get him ready” through his probing questions.
Who in your life is getting you ready?
The flip side of this question is, whom in your life are you getting ready?
When you were younger, you likely head a parent, aunt, coach, or guidance counselor who asked you questions about your future. It started when you were five: what are you going to do when you grow up?
For Bernett Williams, CEO and Executive Director of the Akron Urban League, it was her Aunt Bobbie who asked the questions to get her ready. Every Saturday Aunt Bobbie drove her young niece to every Goodwill store and every rummage sale every Saturday’s newspaper announced. Bernett figured out at a young age that her aunt was teaching her how to count change.
What she didn’t realize until adulthood, was that her aunt was teaching her how to plan her life. It wasn’t the questions that Aunt Bobbie asked that were so important. It was that the questions forced a young Bernett to start thinking. For with every answer, Bernett found another question lurking in the front seat. Aunt Bobbie was the eternal questioner, coaxing her young protégé to look at issues from every angle and a larger lens.
As you progressed from elementary school to middle school, the questions progressed too: where are you going to college? What’s your major going to be?
As you matured to high school the questions matured also: what grades do you need to get into that college? What schools have that major?
In college the questions often emanated from an advisor: what if you don’t get into that program? What if you have to re-locate? What if you don’t like it?
And then you graduate and morph into the workplace. Now who asks you questions that get you ready?
You are ascending up the corporate ladder. Who is asking you questions that get you ready?
It’s likely that no one is asking you because “they” think you already know. And you think you are supposed to know. You may have even stopped asking yourself questions.
That vacuum of curiosity is a detriment to you and your company, firm, or team. You benefit from an external, objective source to ask you questions from a different perspective. You may be able to be the objective source for others on your team or in your company. That may be enough.
But it’s challenging for an internal source to provide an objective perspective. Just as it was a challenge for your parents to challenge you as a teen-ager. It’s a challenge for you to provide objectivity within your company.
Those in the middle of a challenge focus on the process. They tend to spin within the world of “how” rather than concentrate on the world of “what”. An external source provides a faster road out of process to the solution. Everyone benefits from the question, what is the result you want to accomplish?
Be or find an objective source to ask you questions that get you ready. Don’t be reluctant to go to an outside source. You may think someone outside of your industry does not understand. GOOD. Select someone who does not drink the same Cool-Aid, someone who will think differently. Remember, your client, customer, patient, guest, or member does not think the way you think. You need to think the way they think.
There will come a time when you not only benefit from someone asking you questions, you can benefit someone else by asking questions.
Silently, you will pass from beneficiary of questions asked to the one who asks questions of others. Who are you helping to get ready?
Your torch of knowledge can be passed to others by the asking of questions. The quality of your work and your life will be improved when you find someone who asks you questions to “get you ready”.
You will be both personally and professionally enriched when you become the objective, external source helping someone else get ready for their challenge, their life . . . and indirectly your satisfaction.
The Oscar belonged to Brad Bird. You can bet the guidance counselor who asked the questions to help get the once thirteen-year old middle school boy ready shared the glory.