9 On that note… saying ‘no’, ‘why?’ and ‘what if?’ are as important to us as saying ‘yes’. We’re here to ask questions. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable working through something, if it means things are better thought through in the long run.
As Andrew’s already said, we ask why as much as we say ‘yes’. We ask a lot of questions. And – if we don’t think we’re the right people to do something for you, we’ll be up front about that, too. Why’s that? Well, it might be because of our journalistic backgrounds – we’re primed to ask questions, and it’s one of the most valuable things we do.
I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on AI and machine learning and understanding what our future world of work holds. And, in Oslo last year, was lucky enough to see MIT professor Andrew MacAfee talk about the advance of AI. Like Voltaire, 250 years ago, he pointed out that our ability to question; to ask the right questions, is one of the key things that makes us human. And marks out our difference from machine learning. That fascinates me. In our work with Suzanne and Tim at Appreciating People, the idea that ‘the first question is fateful’ lies at the heart of their work in appreciative inquiry; the idea that the question you choose to start with paves the direction of the route ahead. We can lead or manipulate people with that choice of question.
But, coming back to the point, questions are at the heart of our communication work: why you’re doing what you’re doing; what its real purpose is and what you want to get out of the job you’re doing. It’s very easy to trot out the same answers, without really thinking about what they mean – or what understanding they’re adding to your clients and collaborators. And so, often, we’ll ask you over and over again.
We want to get to the bottom of you and your story; your ethos and rationale. We want to break it down to its bare bones, so we can put it back together in a way that’s clear and concise. Which will feel new and exciting for you, ready to do the job you want it to. That can be tough. It can feel uncomfortable and frustrating going over the things you do instinctively and automatically in minute detail. But we think it means things are better considered in the long run.
And, because we’ve done the same thing in our team – this manifesto was part of that – we also know what we want to do, and where we think our strengths lie (and where are clients tell us they lie, too…) That’s when we’ll say ‘no’ to things, or recommend someone else if we think they’re better placed to do what you need. They might have a better question than us…