More piƱatas please.

Aug 16, 2021

“Scenarios” can give you a better understanding of the way someone thinks.

When is a question not a question?

Good question.

And it’s one with a simple answer. A question is not a question…when it’s a scenario.

We spend a lot of time asking questions as a way to understand – straight up queries like “What’s the objective?” and “When is the deadline? These can useful and practical ways to understand tactics and basic strategy.

Questions – People don't know what they don't know.
That said, much of what happens in communications and connection has to do with other things – emotions, expectations, behvaiours, bias and nomenclature. These affect decisionmaking and direction in just any type of project, job or engagement.

And you can’t simply ask a client “What are biases?” Many actually don’t know the answer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t figure it out.

Scenarios reveal more.
This is where scenarios can be an outstanding help. The idea is pretty simple – instead of asking a straight up question, you pose a scenario or situation with as much detail as you can. Then, you get your audience to react to it. In that reaction, you’ll learn more about the unsaid things than any set of questions will give you.

I call this “the piñata.” You pose a scenario and you essentially ask your audience to grab a stick and star whacking at it. High tech job interviewers have used this technique for years as a way to better understand how a potential employee uses problem solving skills. Instead of asking “what’s your biggest weakness,” they can determine what your biggest weakness is by getting you to react to scenarios. (You don’t have to go as far as Amazon and ask ‘How would you solve problems if you were from Mars?).

The secret – know what you want to learn.
To develop your piñata, start by determining what you’re trying to learn. A common challenge is that a client will say something like “We want to do something bold” or “We want to disrupt traditional thinking.” The words “bold” and “disrupt” are entirely subjective. To understand what your interviewee means, give them a bold or disruptive scenario.

Then start paying attention. Their reaction will tell you about how the understand, how the process, how they make decisions, what’s important to them…and what they mean when they say “bold.”

Scenarios. The questions that aren’t questions – but can give better answers than you ever expected.