One of the great things about the Fourth Industrial Revolution—what many have called the Information Society—is how relatively easy it is to find the answers we’re looking for. Whenever I need a compelling stat to include in a CEO Corner or LinkedIn post—“number of Hispanics in STEM,” for example—usually all it takes is a quick Google search.
One thing technology can’t do, however, is teach us how to ask the right questions.
This comes to mind because, back in April, I participated in two different panels at the digitalNow Conference in Orlando, Florida. On the first panel, we discussed a book called The Inevitable. It was written by Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly, who talked about the 12 technological forces poised to shape our future.
This book fascinated and scared me at the same time. In fact, I’ve lost sleep thinking about how these 12 forces are going to affect the Hispanic Community (for example, the impact of artificial intelligence on the service and manufacturing industries). My mind continues to race to possible strategies and solutions that SHPE can offer, in order to prepare our members to effectively deal with these forces.
There are major takeaways from each and every chapter in Kelly’s book. But in a nutshell: Our society is moving away from a rigid hierarchy, towards a more decentralized paradigm. From nouns to verbs; from products to services; from fixed media to messy remixed media; from stores to flows; from the certainty of answers to the uncertainty of questions. Facts will still be the underpinning of our civilization but the most precious aspects, the most dynamic, most valuable, and most productive facets of our lives and new technology will lie in the frontiers in the edges where uncertainty, chaos, fluidity, and questions dwell.
Which brings me to the one chapter that resonated most with me: the chapter on “Questioning.”
According to Kelly, not all questions are equal, and the most powerful questions don’t always lead to answers. In fact, the best questions are the ones that generate more good questions in turn. Questions aren’t merely the seeds of innovation; they’re what we humans do best.
It’s a theme that loomed just as large during my second panel, where Hal Gregersen, Executive Director for the MIT Leadership Center introduced the concept of “catalytic questions.” It’s an idea he explores in his most recent book, Questions Are The Answer. In short, catalytic questions are the ones that spark even more questions—especially ones that challenge our assumptions and compel us to think outside of the box. To be a disruptor in our thinking (rather than merely disruptive). To think outside of the box. Or, in some cases, to not think of the box at all.
Here are a few questions that are on my mind right now:
How do we burst the nationalist bubbles that oftentimes hold us back as one Hispanic community? What is our singular, mutual purpose? How can we recognize that being Hispanic isn’t dependent on one’s accent, country of origin, or how recently one arrived to the U.S.? Or do we?
What should SHPE’s vision be—as an organization? What about for the Hispanic Community?
By no means are these the only questions I’m pondering. Nor are these in final form. According to Hal, some executives and organizations take months—and sometime longer–to formulate truly catalytic questions.
Like all catalytic questions, the above inquiries oblige us to dig deeper. What does it mean to be truly unified? Is identifying with our nation of birth or that of our parents or grandparents (and beyond) really a bad thing? Can we keep that identity while also recognizing and respecting fellow Hispanics with vastly different experiences?
For me, posing these kinds of questions forces me to unlearn much of what I was taught. As a law student and then as practicing lawyer, for instance, I learned to ask leading questions—ones whose answers I already knew, or led to the answers I needed or wanted. It’s a skill I worked hard to cultivate as a trial lawyer and litigator and was useful at the time. But it’s not necessarily the right approach when leading an organization like SHPE—a role that hinges on asking questions for which there is often no one right answer.
To be sure, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Which is why it’s imperative that you, my SHPE Familia, share your ideas and solutions with me and my team. As your CEO—more importantly, as part of your Hispanic Familia—I intend to do everything I can to facilitate platforms and venues by which to ensure our voices are heard, and that our catalytic questions count.
Whether you’re attending a chapter meeting or talking with your family about the challenges and opportunities we Hispanics face, think about the questions that don’t have an easy answer. Those ones are the most important to voice.
In fact, in his book, Gregersen specifically states that learning to ask catalytic questions requires having other people to bounce those questions off of (“question bursts,” he calls them). Why? Different people approach questions and problems from different angles, creating a kind of “kaleidoscopic thinking”. (More on this concept in a future CEO Corner). Think of these “question bursts” as a scientific approach to a social issue: a method of discovery.
Both of the aforementioned books have taught me so much: about the importance of never settling for the status quo, and about the profound power we have to improve the world around us. These books have enlightened me; they have changed my life, my thinking and my way of being. So if you’re looking for a challenging and illuminating summer read, I couldn’t recommend these two books more highly.
Right after you read our first-ever SHPE Annual Report, of course.
Raquel Tamez, CEO