Elizabeth: “The Question Game”

graphic_stonesOnce upon a time, a long time ago, I got my MBA. At the time it was the thing to do for those wishing to move up the corporate ladder. I wasn’t in a big hurry to climb that ladder, but I certainly didn’t want to be left behind, so when my co-workers headed off to get their degrees, I followed right along (especially since my employer was footing the bill).

Much of what I learned during the program has been long forgotten or is out-dated. I can’t remember the last time I needed to calculate exchange rates or net present value for my day job (never), and I’m hardly ever asked for my input on organizational structure (which is a shame, because I’ve got some ideas). What stuck with me all this time though are the things I learned in a class called “Managerial Psychology.”

The idea of the class was that, before you could effectively manage others, you needed to be able to understand/manage yourself. We did all kinds of things in that class – Gregorian chanting, guided meditations, readings, discussions – all intended to help us get a better understanding of who we were, what we wanted, and why we made the choices we made. As we learned to “get rid of judgement,”, “watch what is happening,” and “question everything” we also learned how to access our creative potential.

Some people rolled their eyes at the “touchy-feely” nature of the class and did only what was necessary to get through it with a good grade. Others (myself included) went all in – meditating, journaling, visualizing, drawing mandalas, etc. – all with the “anything is possible” mindset. For me it was the most valuable piece of my degree and totally worth the price of admission. As I went back and looked over my class writing assignments in preparation for this blog, I was surprised all over again at how much I learned and the insights I uncovered during the class. I was more creative during that time period than I ever was before or have been since. Poems, stories, book ideas – you name it – all in a ten week period.

“I feel like this class has allowed me to develop and apply a set of tools that have enabled me to see a path I didn’t know I was looking for in order to take a journey I didn’t realize I wanted to take.” ~ from my final class paper

So, that’s great, but what does this all have to do with writing?

One of the most useful tools I came out of the class with is something I like to call “The Question Game.” Around the mid-point of the class, we participated in small focus groups where we each worked on a specific individual problem. The sessions had a statement/question format. Each person started with their problem/statement. The other members then responded with a question and the dialog went back and forth until the problem was resolved, clarity was achieved, or time ran out. There was no judging, just an attempt to reach a level of understanding.

For example:

 I’m trying to decide whether to get a new job or not.

          Why do you want a new job?

My current job is boring.

          What part of your job is boring?

Answering the phones all day long.

          What part of answering the phones do you find boring?

Etc.

This same questioning process has been very helpful for me twice lately – once when trying to understand what has been keeping me from writing and then later when looking for a creative solution to a problem scene where my hero was called away from a ballroom to meet with an informant and I couldn’t figure out the who or the why. I used the process to work my way through potential explanations for who the informant was and what information was being passed. The process led me past a number of rejected scenarios, but finally resulted in an answer I had never even considered before, which also jump-started some other new ideas.

So, have you tried this kind of process to jump-start your writing or help you get unstuck?  What other tools are in your tool-box?

7 thoughts on “Elizabeth: “The Question Game”

  1. Huh. That sounds like a great process. I’ve got two things holding me back — my nearest and dearest doesn’t speak English fluently. I wonder how important it is to be UNDERSTOOD in this process. I do think it’s important to have an outsider(s) asking the questions, otherwise it’s easy to get caught in a mind loop. But maybe if someone is just asking . . . .

    The other thing is that I worry about imposing upon other people. But maybe that could be fixed a variety of ways — set a 15 minute time limit, make it a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” sort of thing.

    Another problem is judgment — I would hate to expose an idea, and have it judged harshly. I know my friends here would come from a good place and judge things honestly. But, it’s still a bit of a hurdle, to expose things.

    LOL, and I just noticed what a completely ridiculous word “judge” is. Look at that d and g bumping up together! “Judged” — a ploppy kind of word; not elegant, kinda harsh. I really need to let go of that part if I want to be a successful writer.

    It sounds like it’s worth a try. (-: The merits and demerits of Kitty’s magic . . . .

    • I’ll play, if you ever want to give it a virtual try, Micki!

      I like the suggestion from the Emma Coates/Pixar rules of storytelling: if you get stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next (thinking around the problem as an alternative to drilling down on it). I’ve tried that a few times. It’s surprising how often the exercise shakes something loose.

      • Jilly – I’ve found that exercise to be very helpful as well. It can be a good way to come up with a solution that isn’t “the same old thing.” Excellent tool to keep in the tool-box.

      • (-: I may take you up on that. I have to figure out when I’ve got some free time. And then catch up with you to find out when you have 20-30 minutes of free time (-:.

        There ought to be an app for it. Humans are better, of course, but robots might be able to randomize the process to such a degree that weird truths pop up.

    • Michaeline – you’re right, you need to make sure you can find someone you trust, who won’t be judging or it is hard to get real value from the process. That was one of the advantages of doing it in a classroom setting – it made it more anonymous/ clinical rather than personal, plus we were all strictly cautioned about not judging/criticizing. You can also perform both sides of the process yourself if you want to. You won’t have the advantage of an outside view of things, but it can still get you thinking.

  2. The part of the Question Game that resonates with me the most strongly is the nonjudgmental nature of the questioning. I’m reminded of the Brené Brown and Miguel Ruiz that I’ve been reading, and how those have taught me how much my judgments (either pre- or snap-) get in the way of hearing what is being said.

    • Scott – you’re right, the “lack of judgement” aspect is key to having the process provide useful results. Preconceived ideas about what the “answers” are can make it challenging to get to the real root of issues or, as you say, hear what is really being said.

      It was my recent reading of related posts by both Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert that brought this classwork to mind and motivated me to revisit it.

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