Through the power of collaboration, great leaders know how to think with people who think differently.
Many of today’s leaders have been trained to think for an era that no longer exists. But now we are in a hinge time, poised at a tipping point between two different ways of considering success. For hundreds of years, the traditional market-share mentality predominated, training us to think alone, as rugged individualists. Under market-share, wealth was measured by the ability to produce and distribute material things, and leaders were taught how to be right, but not how to be effective with other people. Today, we are confronted with vastly different challenges than our predecessors, and a new, collaborative way of thinking, which former IKEA CEO Goran Carstedt calls “mind-share,” is gaining influence. We are entering a world where wealth is carried by ideas and relationships more than transactions. For example, newspapers and magazines are branching out from solely measuring success in material terms like number of copies/papers sold, to encompassing the importance of shareability, click-throughs, and page views.
When things carry value, if I have one and give it away, I lose something. But when ideas carry value, everything is turned upside down. When you have a good idea and I have a good idea and we exchange them, you walk away with two new ideas and I also have two new ideas. The more we share, the more we have. The latest research in neuroscience indicates that we are hardwired to connect, understand, and harmonize with one another. And in a complex, hyper-speed global economy, our future depends on it.
In our experience as advisors to global CEOs and senior leadership teams, we’ve discovered that great leaders embrace this mind-share mentality. They understand that it’s not so much what you know, as how well you understand the talent that surrounds you. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the largest hedge fund in the world, agrees: “My success is not due to what I know, it’s really due more to what I don’t know and how I handle being wrong. I love to find people who think differently than I do and see a problem through their eyes. That’s learning, and it helps me make better decisions than knowing the right answer.” Mind-share leaders, like Ray, know how to build bridges between people who are intellectually diverse. They recognize that each person makes a unique contribution, and they recognize the talents and thinking styles of others.
Leaders with a mind-share mentality bring out the best in others by being masterful at finding just the right question. Rather than assuming they know it all, they acknowledge another’s position and artfully use diverse questions to understand their needs and evoke their knowledge.
While this unique kind of inquiry doesn’t require fancy tools or techniques, it does profoundly shift our thinking. In a market-share economy, the kind of questions that have value are those that can be answered quickly with resolve and certainty. Most leaders were taught to provoke and motivate others by pushing for answers. This approach often results in a closed mind that is forceful and arrogant. A mind-share mentality, however, requires you to evoke thinking and inspire growth. The focus is on exploring the question itself, rather than being certain about your answer. You strengthen your mental muscle by holding uncertainty. Market share focuses on getting the answer; mind-share focuses on exploring the question.
A market-share mentality focuses solely on the content of what someone is saying. A mind-share mentality, on the other hand, pays attention to the way it’s being said, and the kinds of questions that are being asked.
We have identified four distinct way of asking questions and thinking through problems, which we call inquiry styles: Analytic—Why?, Procedural—How?, Relational—Who?, and Innovative—What if? Based on our own experience with senior leaders and research by creativity researcher Ned Hermann, we’ve determined that approximately 7% of adults favor just one style of inquiry, 60% percent favor two, 30% favor three, and just 3% favor all four.
You naturally gravitate toward questions like, “What are the facts?” “What does the data indicate?” “What is the most logical approach?” When misunderstood, you may come across as skeptical, critical, or like a cross-examiner.
You tend to ask questions that focus on the detailed sequence of action needed to get things done: “How will we do this?” “How much time will it take?” “What’s the deadline?” Misunderstood, you may be accused of missing the big picture or getting caught up in unnecessary logistics.
You believe that people are our greatest resource and constantly find yourself asking, “How do you feel about that?” “Who could help?” “What kind of support do you need?” Misunderstood, you may come across as overly emotional and overly concerned with what other people think.
Innovative Inquiry—What If?
You tend to focus on the future and like to formulate new ideas and strategies, asking, “What could we do here that no one’s ever done before?” “What’s our vision?” Misunderstood, you may come across as unrealistic, scatterbrained, or scheming.
To create a bridge with someone who thinks differently, here are four questions you can ask yourself to shift to a mind-share mentality:
- Which style of inquiry are they using with me? Imagine you are in the midst of a work challenge with a colleague, and you begin to feel frustrated or confused by what they are saying. Before there is a breakdown, bring to mind the four kinds of questions. Identify which kind they use most often.
- Which style of inquiry do I favor? Now come back to yourself and get curious about which of the four you most frequently use. This will clarify what you need to collaborate.
- What could be right about what they are saying? Imagine that you prefer Innovative Inquiry and find yourself dragged down by a colleague who peppers you with procedural questions. Challenge yourself to see the value in what they are saying. This will empower you to shift from irritation to curiosity about what their thinking has to offer you.
- How can I form a thinking partnership with this person? Again, bring to mind your colleague who prefers procedural questions. He or she may excel at keeping projects and budgets on track., while you prefer thinking big and exploring possibilities,. These two different inquiry styles, when misunderstood, can clash, but understanding the differences can result in a great thinking partnership.
Dr. Dawna Markova, CEO Emeritus of Professional Thinking Partners, is internationally known for her groundbreaking research in the identification of core cognitive competencies and has served as an advisor to senior executives in organizations that include Pepsi Cola, Frito Lay, Bolthouse Farms, Royal Dutch Shell, and NATO.
Angie McArthur is a senior partner of Professional Thinking Partners, and since joining the company in 1998 has co-facilitated and designed global conferences, leadership retreats, training programs, and ongoing one-on-one Thinking Partnerships in organizations from non-profits to Fortune 500s.
Markova and McArthur are co-authors of Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With People Who Think Differently.