The Power Question – Reaching The Heart Of Your Business


Towards the end of 2019, I attended an evening networking function in Cape Town. This night will always be imprinted on my memory. I met this guy who asked me my name, and then followed this up with a rather direct question – one I’d never been asked before. 

The question took me off guard, but straight away I knew that my answer would determine whether this conversation ended now, or whether my stranger was going to offer me any more of his precious time. The answer needed a ‘gravitas’ to it, one which would spark curiosity.  

The fire at UCT – not interesting?

Before I reveal the question, let’s pause for a moment. What are the questions we normally ask the stranger? I suppose the most popular one would be, “so what do you do?” That’s not a bad question. It’s one which all of us have asked repeatedly. It’s a safe question because when you know what somebody does, you can probably direct the conversation towards a congenial space.

From here, it’s easy to become friendly and pass some of that awkward time most people experience when in the presence of unknown people. It goes something like this. ‘Oh, you’re a lecturer at UCT? I heard of that terrible fire you had last year.’ And now we start talking about the fire, the changing weather patterns, the state of the country, blah, blah blah.

My stranger’s question made it clear from the word go, he was not interested in arbitrary talk. He went straight for the jugular. 

The Power Question - Reaching The Heart Of Your Business

Most people make the same mistake

They talk about themselves. It’s always interesting to go to a website and see what the opening paragraphs are. What we often find are people sharing information about themselves. They might share their history, like how and when they were formed. They might tell you all the things they offer. All this information is great and should make its way somewhere onto the site. But should it be the opening paragraph? Not according to my stranger.

We make a mistake when we make it about ourselves. It reminds me of a great thought process by Seth Godin, which goes as follows. Some people say, ‘Pay attention. I want you to buy what I made.’ And others say, ‘I’ve been paying attention, and I think I can offer you what you want.’  

My stranger was more interested in the latter.

Who are the people that will be relevant in the future?

Relevance is such a powerful and scary word. Scary? Well, consider this quote by Yuval Noah Harari.

‘Today’s battle is not worker exploitation, but worker irrelevance.’

Whether we like it or not, all of us are in the battle for future relevance. Our world is changing so quickly that none of us has the guarantee of today’s skills being tomorrows wants. We must continually shed old ways of doing things. We must train, retrain, learn, unlearn, and relearn, simply to remain relevant and value-adding.

The good news within all of this is that there is much need in our world. Our world is fragile – I know this does not sound like good news – and there are weighty problems that need to be solved. The sustainable businesses will be those who solve human problems.

The Power Question - Reaching The Heart Of Your Business

And now…the QUESTION

‘What problem are you solving?’

It’s a brilliant question. It takes you to the heart of the matter. Those who connect with the problem they solve, who notice what people our world needs, are going to walk a compelling path. We cannot be working just to be busy. We must be working to make life better for someone, for something. When we understand who and what this is, we can begin to have the right conversations with the right people. This question calls us to be courageous, fresh and innovative. We need to see things through new eyes.

Create your 30 second problem-solving blurb.

A few years ago, I came across this well-crafted thought process from Don Muller. Here are 7 questions to ponder that can create a problem-solving narrative. Take note of the order of these questions. How they are communicated is essential

  1. What does your customer want or need?
  2. What is their external problem?
  3. How is that making them feel?
  4. How are you positioned as the guy who can help them?
  5. What is the call to action?
  6. How will their life change if they use you?
  7. What will be their happy ending?

As you will notice, you only come into the picture from question 4. Question 1 to 3 is about you paying attention to the problem your clientele experience.                     

Our world needs people who become courageous, fresh, and innovative enough to ask the right questions, which in turn enable sustainable solutions.

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