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The Importance of the 'Next' Question

The Next Question

May 13, 2020

My daughter and I were having a conversation recently about her job search. She indicated to me that there is a particular place she would like to work. She feels that it will help her make a determination on what direction she would like to go with her career. As our conversation developed, I asked her what she planned on doing at this place. She said she wasn’t sure, but that she’d still like to do it.

I am supportive of her ambition, and I appreciate her wanting to get involved in an organization aligned with her career ambitions. What was missing from our conversation was the “next” question.

What to Do with an Idea

When working on strategies, failing to as the “next” question is a common problem. There is enthusiasm behind ideas, and those ideas can seem specific enough at the time to build momentum. While that is true, the next step is sometimes the hardest. We have an idea. What do we do with it?

The Planning Phase

The “next” question is where you define specifics and start the real work of planning. My daughter has a well-defined outcome but getting into the specifics are where she starts to reshape and learn about that outcome in a more developmental way. I want to get “x” experience to support “y” choice. And “y” may shift to “z” if the experience dictates a better outcome.

Frustrations with the planning process will start to emerge if these questions are not asked. In some instances, there is resistance to get into a greater level of detail due to fears that it will diminish enthusiasm. The opposite is actually true. If you have a well-formed plan, with supporting details and logistics worked out, it actually reduces frustrations, as you have a plan developed that can resonate at many levels.

Criticisms of Planning

A common criticism of planning is that it can lack detail and contain too much flowery or aspirational language; the above is what triggers that criticism. Once you have determined the overall outcome, move to the next series of questions. Those are questions about infrastructure and specificity.

Another criticism of planning is that it can be too linear or not account for the dynamic nature of changing circumstances. I’ll go back to my daughter for another example here. Why was she looking for employment at a specific type of organization? Her plan needed to pivot.

Uncertainty about COVID-19 changed her thinking about her near-term plans. She has decided to wait a year and see how things change due to not knowing what will happen with the colleges she is interested in. With new variables introduced, new analysis is required. Her “next” question became: How do I get prepared for what will happen next year?”

My daughter wants to work at a specific type of organization. After some research, she determined a specific type of certification will make her more marketable for that job. Once she has obtained that, she can address her “next” question because she knows what she is capable of doing for that type of organization. Then the “next” question becomes how to secure a job doing that, and so on.

Never discount the importance of the “next” question. It can be the deciding factor between a good idea and a well-executed strategy.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.