What is Your Strategic Question?
In order to develop a strategy, it helps if you can discern your “strategic question.” A strategic question comes out of sitting with all the information you have generated so far: your vision, current reality, SWOT, blocks. The strategic question helps you discern how to leverage all of this information. It is the question that unlocks the door to your movement and makes everything fall into place. The strategic question is appropriate for business and your personal life. The worst thing we can do is to create a business that we hate because we didn’t take our own personal lifestyle wants and needs into consideration as we built the business model. So today, I am using personal examples to explain this concept of strategic question pulled from my Life Mapping Coaching Clients.
Discovering or developing your strategic question is key to developing a direction that leads not only to the career, financial or personal goals that you desire but that creates the opportunity for you to live your ideal lifestyle.
For example, I once coached a University professor who also had a consulting business. Delores wanted to do her consulting work full-time. She wanted to have the option to teach without the responsibilities of University life – serving on committees, politics, etc. She wanted to be able to keep the financial security of having a full time job, i.e., a steady paycheck so she didn’t have to change her lifestyle. Her strategic question: “What is needed to stay connected to the University and move to consulting full time?” Ironically, her answer became the very thing she didn’t want to do – retire. By buying a few additional years into the retirement plan at the University, she would be eligible to retire early, collect a regular paycheck and spend her energy full time on her consulting business.
A couple that I coached discovered that, on a certain level, their current circumstances actually were supporting their living their ideal lifestyle. Jan and Juan were graduate students, lived at a private school in exchange for some light maintenance, had three children and both picked up periodic organizational development work and teaching opportunities. They wanted to live in simple yet beautiful surroundings, be able to put their family and children first, and surround themselves with wonderful people. They had all this even though they did not own their home. And, they wanted to do work that was fulfilling. Their teaching and organizational development work was very fulfilling. Yet, they wanted more financial security for themselves and their family. This was the missing element.
The traditional idea of getting jobs as they finished their degrees (Juan was working on his PhD and Jan on her master’s degree) was not going to support their lifestyle and their desire to have time, energy and attention for their children. Their strategic question became “how to find meaningful work and a path to financial security while maintaining their ideal lifestyle?” This became the focus of our work together.
Notice that we are calling this the strategic question. This isn’t about just asking a bunch of questions that are going to have you turning in circles, unable to determine which way to go. You will need to frame one question in such a way that it will lead you to a clear answer. This is where care must be taken.
A guy is driving along a long country road in the middle of nowhere and has a flat tire. When he gets out to change the flat tire and he realizes he has no jack, so he goes off in search of a jack. He framed his problem as, “I need a jack to change the tire and I have no jack. Where can I find a jack?”
Another car, coming down the same, lonely road has a flat tire. The driver of that car discovers he has no jack either. But he frames the problem as, “I need to change the tire, I have no jack.” The strategic question is: “What can I use to lift the car so I can change the tire?” He looks around and sees a log and a large rock, which he uses to lift up the car and change the tire. He continues on his way, passing the first guy still walking down the road–still in search of a jack.
By framing the strategic question as “how do I lift the car?” instead of “where can I find a jack?” the second man opened himself up to many more choices about how he might solve the problem. This is true with strategic questions in Life Mapping. They are best framed in ways that offer you options, choices and opportunities. Often, we have preconceived notions about what the answers to our questions will be, so we may build the answer into the question or subtly anticipate the answer before we even ask the question. We’re not really asking a question at all. We certainly aren’t asking in a way that enables our minds to be open to the multitude of possibilities that might frame the answer. That’s what happened to the first driver. He thought he knew the answer to his problem: I need a jack. A more open-minded approach to the problem might have led him to a different outcome.
Usually strategic questions are framed to address a few key issues that don’t go together. In the first example, the professor/consultant had three things she was paying attention to:
- Financial security
- Quitting her full time job and still being able to teach
- Wanting to consult full time
Delores opened herself up to exploring how these three ideas can come together through clear action to move her closer to her vision. From the answer to your strategic question you can move to actions.
What is your strategic questions? What are you paying attention to as you look to move from where you are now to your ideal lifestyle?