When looking for wisdom avoid the “fast-thinking” trap, ask “slow-thinking” questions

Ask good questions and generate intelligent insights.

The biggest revelation we had from the last 10 years of hosting online crowdsource dialogues (1) with employees for organisations is that a single word in a good question can make all the difference!

When there are 100 people online for one hour, a badly posed question would waste 700 valuable brain-minutes and an opportunity to learn would be lost. On the other hand, posing good questions generates energy, stimulating all participants to join the conversation. A good question touches hearts and minds. Most importantly a good question uncovers valuable actionable insights and creates highly engaged participants.

Key to formulating a good question is knowing what you are looking for. What type of answers are useful and valuable? What type of thinking do you want to promote with respondents? When you are looking for wisdom you need to ask “slow-thinking” questions.

Avoid the “fast-thinking” trap.

We all intuitively know that there are two types of questions, those that are easy to answer and those that require you to think and reflect before answering. Nobel prize winner, Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his seminal work, Thinking Fast and Slow, that people use two types of brains to answer a question. First there is the more primitive reflex brain that stimulates “fast-thinking”. It is superfast, thinks instantly and operates from the here and now. It uses instinct, patterns, biases and analogies. This reflex brain is a great engine we use all the time to find quick answers to day to day questions such as “can I cross the street now?”. The other is the reflecting brain. This is “slow-thinking” and needs to be prompted and activated. It helps us to think thoroughly, more in the abstract and systemically. We probably all recognise situations where we needed to create the conditions – white space, a shower, a walk – to concentrate so as to be able to think something through. This is when you want to tap into the deep slow-thinking capacity of your reflecting brain

Daniel Kahneman points out that human brains are fundamentally lazy and prefer using their fast reflex brain to quickly answer questions. This means that when hearing a question, the fast brain tends to take over and formulate an answer. On top of that, as he explains, the fast brain is prone to many biases. If you are seeking wisdom or profound advice from a person or group of people, your question needs to trigger their slow-thinking (reflective) brain. Remember the slow-thinking brain is lazy and will only start the deep thinking if prompted. So, when you are seeking wisdom avoid the fast-thinking trap. and formulate slow-thinking questions

Slow-thinking-questions vs. fast-thinking-questions

The image below helps to understand the difference slow-thinking-questions and fast-thinking-questions. All questions seek feedback on the value of a conference participation. The specific formulation of each questions on the left triggers a different thinking and emotional process illustrated to the right. See how more slow-thinking triggering questions (lower left) induce deeper thinking, stimulating the reflecting brain.

  1. Asking a fast brain question like, “How satisfied are you about conference X?” will induce the fast brain to instantly collect a quick answer by collecting reflexes and feelings of joy or boredom. The fast brain will generate an answer to: “Did I like this conference?” It’s a quick, top of mind answer.
  2. Asking a slow brain question such as “What did you learn at conference X?” will request the slow brain to start working: one has to remember what information was shared, compare this with their current knowledge, evaluate the new information and its value, and make a conclusion. This is a very different thinking journey!

Asking slow thinking questions cannot happen without creating the right environment. One where there is:

  • a safe space to speak up
  • an enquirer who is respectful and sincerely interested
  • a question phrased to give energy and fit into the flow of the dialogue.

Knowing what type of outcome you looking for determines the choice between a slow or a fast-thinking question. Are “top of mind perceptions” valuable or do you want to get deeper wisdom?

You can easily test the slow or fast thinking level of your question by answering it yourself. You will discover if you are using the instant “fast-thinking” or need more time using the “slow-thinking” part of your brain.

Watch Joanne talking about asking the right question in this video:

Post by Joanne Celens and Susan Anglin

Joanne Celens (left) is the CEO of Synthetron. Joanne studied business (KULeuven) and International studies at Johns Hopkins University. Contact Joanne at joanne.celens@synthetron.com

Susan Anglin (right) is a Consultant for Synthetron Canada. Susan has earned her MBA and the PMP designation (Professional Project Manager). Contact Susan at susan.anglin@synthetron.com

This post was first published by Bob Tiede on his blog – https://leadingwithquestions.com/blog/

Synthetron helps leaders and managers to engage and get answers to important questions by facilitating moments of meaningful and efficient 1 hour online dialogue with employees /stakeholder groups.

How do we do it?


People often ask us “So what actually happens in a Synthetron discussion?”

Watch our short animation for an overview of how a Synthetron online dialogue works.

Using our unique discussion software, we set up and run a 1-hour online, anonymous discussion.
During the moderated discussion, the people you have invited will discuss your topics based on a script we have developed together to question key aspects of your issue. They can comment, exchange and validate opinions and develop winning ideas via a structured process on a real-time basis, from their own computer or tablet.
The diagram below shows the screen as participants will experience it.




The Synthetron tool allows insights to surface – the group decides what is important regardless of peer pressure, social concerns or politics. And this constructive listening to large and dispersed groups breaks the old paradigm of communications being a one way street or just for the elite. Why not harness the expertise and experience of everybody who can contribute? Our clients often comment that from these focused one hour discussions they learn far more than they expected – and as a bonus motivate and engage all those invited.

After a session, you get a quick report within 2 days with top level results:  number of participants, activity levels and a list of the most supported statements of the group.
Within 2 weeks you will get a complete analysis on the heart of the discussion – what opinions the group have, what ideas have been co-created, what really matters to them.
Click here to have a look at some examples of the rich insights clients get from this process.

Feedback in Change

Listen to employees with Synthetron online dialogues

Feedback in Change

10 Lessons Learned from Crowdsourcing

Sometimes the requests from Linkedin change practitioners trigger an instant reaction with me. The question about “The greatest barrier to successful change is the pace and accuracy of feedback“ did so because my main focus has been on facilitating this feedback loop on a massive and authentic scale within organisations using crowdsourcing. Hence it motivated me to sum up my ten top lessons learned.

From experience my lessons learned to have a good feedback loops are:

1. Create a safe environment:

Organise your feedback in such a way that people can speak up “safely”, and share their problems, issues and emotions without fear so that you really know what matters. Anonymity is a great enabler here.

2. Reach out:

Involve more than the happy few closely involved in the change project and reach out to those affected by the change. However be careful not to mix people with very different levels of change impact, you gain by splitting people into groups for whom the change-experience will be similar.

3. Get feedback in a social way:

People appreciate hearing the ideas of others, to feel they are not alone, to get tips and insights, and above all to learn and allow their own ideas to be expressed in a conversation.

4. Look for feedforward:

Go beyond feedback on how things are going and ask the people also to give you their insights and wisdom to find solutions and improvements. From our experience there is great wisdom to be gained whenever you create the space for it in your conversations. It is a misconception that people are against change; they are against “bad change”. From our research of thousands of interventions we clearly demonstrate that people mainly think in enabling terms when asked to share feedback during change, i.e. what can be done better (*).

5. Ask the right, meaningful, open questions:

Listen to people in an open way (acknowledging that they are the subjects having to make the change happen). Do not measure people by asking them to respond to a set of closed questions or polls (as if they are objects of the change).

6. Balance attention of Heart, Head and Hands:

Engage your people to share their feedback on the rationale for change (Head) but also on the way they feel the change via behaviour, values, and emotions (Heart). Lastly ask them to share their more practical feedback about aspects of the change (Hands), and they will tell you what changes ito tools, budgets, competences, processes or resources will help the change to progress

7. Calibrate your feedback:

Ensure that a small number of vocal people do not get all the attention, rather find out what most find relevant, including feedback which is not commonly recognised. That way you avoid jumping to invalid conclusions (the crowdsource software can do this for you).

8. Seek feedback regularly:

Feedback “changes” during the change period. At the start, you’ll probably focus on alignment, trying to find how to overcome resistance to change. In later phases the focus is more about improving engagement, enabling you to fine tune the change by improving processes, tools or management, to accelerate your roll out in a robust way. Adapt the pace of your feedback loop to the roll out of your change phases and to your capacity to follow up (and expect results from corrective measures).

9. Understand the meaning of the feedback:

Ask yourself what the feedback means for the change project. Don’t jump to conclusions, but get the bigger picture about what are the most important issues, root causes and potential solutions at different managerial levels. Translate it into managerial implications for the change process – a “so what” analysis.

Here you can go much further than merely listening to the content of what people say. You can identify the various change forces (Head, Heart and Hands), discover effective buzz words, and perform a mindset analysis, so you know what type of communication is most likely to be effective. Some of these steps require specific competences.

10. Follow up:

Asking for feedback is an intervention: you have engaged the people to share their best ideas and opinions, so they are more involved. Recognise and thank them for their valuable feedback, then decide what you are going to do with it and act in a noticeable way. Otherwise next time you risk no longer getting their best opinions and ideas… and all the engagement you created will evaporate
If done right feedback is a positive intervention- we see change readiness increase significantly in moments of feedback (measured both in mindset analysis indicators and by just poll people’s self-assessment on the change curve at the beginning and end of a feedback session). So independent from the insights one can obtain, the process of feedback itself is a potential big change enhancer.

(*)“What Managers, Executives and Staff Tell us that Really Matters”, in Review of Business and Economics, 2011 (2), by Paul Verdin, Eric Cabocel, Joanne Celens & François Faelli.

By Joanne Celens


Learn more about our Methodology

Experience a Synthetron session

Engagement Surveys: not quite there yet

Engagement Surveys: not quite there yet

For the past twenty years employee opinion surveys have  been going through a steady evolution.
First there were satisfaction surveys, which today have evolved into engagement surveys. It’s a necessary metric in the classical HR dashboard, but usually it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Engagement surveys give us a multitude of numbers for different departments, business units, etc. But most of the time you’ll see that the results don’t really differ, or worse, don’t really matter.
A reason for this is the top-down approach embedded in HR. Existing solutions and processes are often used to control problems.


Synthetron does it differently

This is where Synthetron works in a different way. Starting from past results, we set up meaningful discussions guided bottom-up by the employees themselves. Through an intelligent online  tool that enables large groups of people (> 1000) to partake in simultaneous real-time dialogue, it becomes possible to explore  solutions to problems, search for common ground and reflect on the current situation.

The methodology is based on the concept of ‘the wisdom of crowds’ by J. Surowiecki. The beauty of this is that every individual participant is talking to and exchanging ideas with a small group of people. This makes the whole conversation more manageable. The software then makes sure that this small group of people is connected to the larger group.

Case: FMCG

A multinational FMCG was having trouble with the results of their engagement survey, which showed an apparent unhappiness with growth opportunities (even though there was a ‘corporate university’) and a whole slew of low scores that were hard to interpret or even connect.

The functional manager asked to set up a discussion with the whole (worldwide) development department  in which the role of the employee, organization and manager were discussed. The discussion resulted immediately in a list of ideas that were supported by the whole group. Also some old hypotheses  that had been posited time and time again after each engagement survey were disproved, e.g.: ‘unhappy with the development opportunities’, ‘not knowing the corporate university’.

The discussion showed how people knew about such opportunities and wanted to take advantage of  them, but were unable to because of the constant high work pressure (and changes). They felt like they never had the time. In other words: the development trajectories were viewed as something theoretical, and not something people could actually do.

Now what did this discussion yield?

  • First of all a clear and open gesture of appreciation towards the team and the whole department in its professionalism, drive and goals.
  • The insight that a new information campaign wouldn’t improve the engagement survey results.
  • The insight that employees want to be involved and can do more than complain
  • A list of clear changes in working conditions, new instruments, etc. to work better remotely
  • And finally, and most importantly: an open and honest dialogue between management and employees on ‘our ways of working’.


Synthetron enables  organisations to “listen in a clever way”

The above case is representative for the advantages Synthetron offers as an online discussion method.

  • The employees are really heard and experience this. It’s not just a meeting, it’s more of an intervention.
  • The engagement of the employees increases significantly
  • It generates a solution provided by the employees

In short: a Synthetron discussion is a process in which an organisation cleverly listens to its employees and helps them think ahead, beyond the engagement survey results

by Jan Camelbeek

Original article: http://cantaloupe-im.eu/blog/?p=38#more-38