Show your work

by | Jul 9, 2019 | Ideas |

When I was in high school, I’d often argue with my teachers about the marks awarded for my test answers. In math, I would simply put the answer to the equation and in science if the question didn’t ask ‘why’, I’d simply put the answer. Technically, my answer was correct, but it did not explain any of my thinking process, which my teachers wanted to see.

There are many ways in which to answer the question of “How was the meeting?” that are true and communicates positivity – it was interesting, insightful, helpful, good, useful and so on. And yet, these answers say nothing and can feel like a brush off or an attempt to shut the conversation down.

When we are exploring new opportunities or are engaging in change projects, we need to at least get to the second line of the answer, into the ‘why’.

It is in the why that we begin to understand the initial response and the perspective of the responder. This is true of a meeting, but also of answers to strategic questions like “which markets do we want to expand into”. We can answer the questions without sharing the reason (rationale and feelings) for it, but when we keep the reasoning to ourselves we rob our colleagues of our thought process.

Now if we are the ones asking for our colleagues to share their thinking and we respond with belittling or dismissive comments, people are more likely to stick with the simple answers. Getting beyond the first line and into the why is where the important discussions lie, where the insight is found. It is here that gems lie for picking.

The answer may be technically true, but it is in explaining the why and your thinking; in ‘showing your work’ that we find seeds of answers to the way forward. We can be stingy like my high school self or choose to be generous. The choice is up to each of us.

Photo by John Schnobrich


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