Are we asking the right questions about the workplace?

In 1989, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, performed a TV sketch called Information. You can watch it below. It featured Stephen Fry sitting at a desk with a placard displaying the word “INFORMATION”. He asks, “Can I help you?” to which Hugh Laurie replies, “Oh, I would like some information, please”. Though, in the discussion, Hugh Laurie expects to get information without asking any questions, Stephen Fry explains that he has lots of information, such as “the average weight of a rabbit”. In response comes the statement, “Well, I didn’t know that, that there was an average weight of a rabbit!”

The sketch has been used to describe the useful/useless information available on the internet, many years before the growth of “Google”. More importantly, it highlights the need to be able to ask the right questions to be able to get the answer you were looking for. The sketch does end with the statement, “the secret of contentment is not to ask too many questions!”



Today’s dilemma is that we have so many well-known practices in the work and workplace industry that seem to know the answer, but the challenge is that they do not know and understand the question.

When I joined IKEA in 1990, I worked with the start-up group to introduce IKEA retail in East Europe (Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovak (latter Czech Republic and Slovakia), and Yugoslavia). Our CEO, a well-established IKEA leader from Germany, called a meeting to discuss the programme schedule. I was surprised that every employee, including consultants, was asked to join this meeting. This meeting was nothing like the meetings I had experienced in my previous jobs in the UK. Everybody was asked to speak, give an update and also give an update on the dependencies they had, upstream and downstream, in the process. The number of nationalities in the meeting was surprising, as the diversity of talent and the various ways of explaining their status.

My shock was that this form of engagement was not unique. This was the way for all meetings. Involvement with all co-workers was mandatory.

This inclusive way of thinking, along with the mantra “Slower is Faster”, ensured that no challenges were unstoppable. Everybody could question anything at any given point in time. As a result, my initial thought of inefficient and ineffective meetings was turned entirely on it’s head. Ultimately the programme was delivered very much on time.

In one of my later assignments, I helped set up the Artificial Intelligence ethical practice and structure for a start-up in Australia. Before I started, a lot of great work was performed by the Chief Product Officer of the start-up. The Artificial Intelligence team was the most diverse team that could have existed then. This created challenges for him to manage such a diverse group of people. Still, his leadership allowed the ideas, thoughts, worries, consequences and delivery to be one network, multidimensional answers to multidimensional questions.

Adding to today’s dilemma are binary statements. An example is the most current noisy question: “will artificial intelligence and ChatGPT replace all jobs?” Some commentators say this will be the case. At the same time, some commentators express that Artificial Intelligence will not replace jobs. Instead, it will only make us more efficient.

But is this the real issue? Should we not be asking the following questions?

  • How will and what effect does Artificial Intelligence have on my job and change my place of work?
  • Should Artificial Intelligence be applied in this form of work?
  • Will Artificial Intelligence create new opportunities in my workplace?
  • And many more.

Yes, there are binary statements, but they are included in a mass of fluid and flexible statements. Our commentators seem to love to put everything in a box and say that this is how it will be. I was always the one to think outside the box and even question if there was a box in the first place.

Ultimately, to be able to ask the right questions, we need to involve more people in creating the questions. So why do we not include policymakers when we have questions about policy? Why do we not include customers when developing solutions they will use?

Our EverythingOmni incubator process is designed to have a better chance to develop a better question and identify a selection of scenarios (answers) that could be applied to solve the issues. We include policymakers, the next generation workforce, customers, suppliers, and people who normally do not belong in the discussion. We question if we have the right people involved and if we have people who can provoke this discussion to develop the incubator to give a better result.

I leave you with the thought, the next time you ask a question, ask yourself, is this the right question, is it a part of the question and do I need to formulate the question differently?