...rather than conflict and stagnation. Nilofer Merchant, author of The New How, was the closing guest speaker in my Managing Technology and Innovation MBA course. I saved her for last as I knew she'd create a situation where the students would be inspired to learn more, rather than seeing the last class as an ending. She led us through a workshop on asking questions that was as much organizational strategy as it was organizational communication. We opened the class by introducing her experience and expertise. Her bio is an engaging one: Founder and CEO of a multi-million dollar strategy/marketing consulting company (Rubicon), MBA from Santa Clara University, senior manager at Apple, and VP at AutoDesk, where she had the career changing experience of being fired by Carol Bartz (now CEO of Yahoo!). She then said something to the effect of, "you understand my expertise, I'm here to help, what would you like to know?" We spent forty minutes in questions and answers with me keeping track of the questions. At the end, she asked for a recap. We'd had twelve main questions and now they were all up on the board. She then asked the students to assess the questions. What commonalities were there? Fact, Investigative, Exploratory: Those were the three kinds of questions on the board. It became clear that different questions would cause different outcomes. Fact focused questions were cut and dried. They gave an answer, but not much conversation. Example, "What's the largest number of direct reports you've had?" (Ans: 18). It took a follow-up question to generate an answer with nuance and opportunity to pass along learning. Investigative questions were a bit better, "How would you explain transparency in terms of your formula?" but they seemed to provide incremental learning. Exploratory questions are what spur big ideas. I'd prepped the students for this class by having them watch Tim Brown's Think Big TED talk -- He closes the talk with: "The first step is to start asking the right questions." I'd asked Nilofer what she would add to our capstone MBA course. That was investigative and a missed opportunity. More exploratory would have been, "What are some possibilities for a great capstone experience?" or "How might we enlarge the frame of management eduction?" (drawn from a Management Innovation Exchange Moonshot). She also urged us to think about our questions before going into a meeting (and I'd add before any collaboration, face to face or otherwise). The lightbulb went on for me as I realized that by being more thoughtful about questions, you can create a more powerful dialog. This is a powerful point: You can positively, or negatively, affect a group's progress through questions. This is a rare collaboration technique as a single person can have a significant effect.