Friday, August 14, 2015

Einstein's 55 minutes: The Right Question

You are crazy busy, right? While working as fast as you can, you are trying to check off the to-do list of 18+ things to complete before next week. List includes: post on Facebook, hire the right staff, let go the wrong staff, write/text sermons, brush up on HH nusach, and design innovative-dynamic-clever-everyone-will-love-learning.

Let me invite you, just before Shabbat, to put down your list, and listen to a really smart guy.

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the right question to ask, for once I know the proper question,  I could solve the problem in less than five minutes. (Albert Einstein)

 I think it is not too dramatic to say, "our lives depend on a solution." Josh Bolton recently wrote in Reconstructionist Chutzpah: A Spirit of Provocation that "...the codes and the boundaries and the rules and the normative are all up for discussion. This era's future Mishnah is still being written." The world we've known has ended.  Despite our efforts, we haven't yet caught up with yesterday's changes, let alone address the altered universe coming at us like the speed of light. To ensure future Jewish life, we will be re-writing the boundaries, rules, and the norms. This is the work of Education Under Re-Construction. How can we re-construct? Re-write?

The advice from the genius with the awesome hair cut and sweet smile is to spend 55 minutes of our precious hour, not creating the answers, programs, and deliverables. Instead, spend 55 minutes crafting the right questions. Then, in 5 minutes we'll have the solution.

While leading educational and organizational change, I have found that my most powerful tool has been, as Einstein instructed, the question.

55 Minute Questions. 3 examples:

1. What are Your Hopes and Dreams?  From California to New York, I've heard from over 200 parents who grapple with: "What are your hopes and dreams for your children? For yourself? What gets in the way?  Together, how do we meet those dreams and overcome the barriers?"

Nancy Parkes's of Westchester, N.Y. shared in her Eli Talk, the forward thrust and new frontier that emerged when folks pondered  hopes, dreams and wishes.

2. When are We at Our Best? Put a stake in the heart of questions that are tired, poor, and yearning to be excised like:
  • How do we get more people to attend services? 
  • How do we make School better/more interesting?
  • How do we get more members? 
Instead, try Appreciative Inquiry questions that access what already works.
Appreciative Inquiry asks:
  • When are we at our best?
  • What are the characteristics of these times?
  • If we were like our best normally, instead of just at peak moments, what would we be doing?

3. How Might We?  This is the generative question at the core of the healthy virus, Design Thinking, spreading across the Jewish community.  "How Might We?"
is a little question with a big bang.

The word How gives confidence by signaling  a solution does exist. The word "might" says we can  experiment, fail, and then learn a thing or two before we try again. And lastly, the word "we" communicates that we can only tackle our challenge as a group--me or you just won't cut it.

I'll stop now with these 3 examples of questions that took at least 55 minutes to frame.  If we are in mishnaic times, as Josh Bolton's article notes, then we we need to re-write. Before we put pen to paper,  or finger to keyboard, let's carefully craft the questions we are asking. We may not get solutions in five minutes, but it feels like the right start.

Would you add something to your to do list? Will you share your 55 minute questions?

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