Think Leadership Ideas

Ask Yourself Big Questions

Consider the two following questions.

What are the goals for my business this year?

What would the world miss if my business didn’t exist?

Both are important, but for very different reasons – and they will impact your thinking in very different ways.

For most questions, value is derived primarily from arriving at an answer. The first question above is useful because its answer holds valuable information. Once you arrive at the answer, you are done. You proceed by taking action on the information, in the current example by ensuring that your activities and plans align with your goals.

How the second question differs is that great value is contained in what is NOT answered. While it is obvious you get nowhere without some coherent answer for this type of question, you are best served by keeping your answer always open, a work in progress. It is the unanswered part that keeps your mind searching, giving you potential for deeper insight.

I refer to these types of questions as BIG questions. Big questions, by their nature, provoke us into thinking in new ways. Big questions take us into the heart of what really matters. Keeping a big question in front of you for an extended period of time keeps your subconscious and well as conscious mind digging for insight.

We rely on questions of the first type for everyday effectiveness in our work. What are our goals and objectives? Did we generate sufficient revenue? What does the customer want? Were deliveries made on time?

Questions of the second type, big questions, help us arrive at what differentiates our organization from our competitors, what we are passionate about, what makes our effort worthwhile.

The big question above is a variant of the ‘George Bailey question’ (as in the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life). A personal version would be, “what would the world miss if you didn’t exist?”

Below are seven other big questions to ponder. Some you have likely seen before, some not, but each has the potential to stimulate important insight.

1. If you started from scratch, would you do what you now do? If not, what are you going to do about it?

2. What would make you excited – joyful, exuberant, energized – to get up each morning?

3. If you were guaranteed success, what would you do?

4. What are your fears? What would you do if you were not afraid?

5. What is the experience you want from life? What is the experience you want other people to have of you? (Don’t forget, what experience does your business give your customers?)

6. How do you want to be remembered? What are you doing to make that happen?

7. What is the gift you bring to the world? What gift does the world bring you?

Putting big questions to work for you is perhaps best explained by further questions. What question most resonates with you, gives you pause to think? What would happen if you asked yourself that question each morning for the next 90 days?

Or better said by the poet Rilke, “Live the questions now.”

by Tom Stevens (c)2007
Tom Stevens helps individuals and organizations create brilliant futures and make a difference. To contact him, visit

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