Answer Intelligence: Raise your AQ transcript

Fiona Allison: Welcome to the Emerald Podcast. I'm Fiona Allison. Today we have Brian Glibkowski, who is Associate Professor of Management at North Central College in Illinois, and CEO of Semplar Science Corp. His research focuses on the role of questions and answers in business and society. So today, Brian we're discussing Answer Intelligence, your book, your framework. So I think what we do is best start off with you describing the basic framework of Answer Intelligence.

Brian Glibkowski: Yeah, I'd be happy to do that thanks for the introduction, Fiona, happy to be here. So I guess the great place to start is with questions. We all know, questions. Going back to grade school, we're taught the six WH questions Why, what, how, when, where, who? We know, open and closed questions. If you go to Amazon and look for business books, those with questions in the title outnumber those with answers three to one. So I've done a lot of research on questions, but that's not the primary focus of my latest research and book, the focus is answers. And one thing that really struck me when I was doing research on questions, were all those things I just mentioned. We know a lot about questions, we don't have a parallel understanding of answers. So to start with, I did research and identified a framework of six answer types: story, metaphor, theory, concept, procedure and action that individuals could use. And the last thing I'll say for the introduction, is that, you know, questions are important, and if we boil it down, questions are for curiosity, but answers are for influence. So this is a framework that complements our understanding of questions, but allows us to influence others in the world around us.

FA: Thanks, that was really well said thank you. So those, say, metaphor and procedure? Is there a best way, do you use all of them? Do you pick one? What's the best way to answer?

BG: Yeah, that's a great question. I'll start by sharing sort of a thought about stories. I think when I first introduced this framework, and when I was doing the research, everyone sort of gravitated towards stories. And there's, you know, six answers, but they're gravitating towards stories. And I think that speaks to the fact that as a society, we really value stories and stories are very important. So many individuals will start with stories, though, they'll think about effective answers in terms of stories, and that's great. But a big focus of my research, I think, was to expand our understanding of answers that it's more than stories. And if you look at the AQ framework, it's a circular structure, and then has a specific meaning from a research standpoint, which I'll save for now, unless you want to get into that. But as a circular structure, the implication is sort of similar to like the knights in the round table, right? It's a round table, indicating that each of the answer modes have an equal seat at the table. So as I see it, each of these answer modes are potentially effective, and no one answer mode is privileged over the other. With that being said, there are certain principles and rules related to conversations. So if someone asks you a why question, you can answer that with a theory or a story or how question or procedure and action. So to some extent, you know, the choice of answers depends on the question being asked.

FA: That's insightful. In some situations, I guess it'd be quite difficult to use every type to answer one question, it would just be almost a bit too much. Thinking about to stories, actually, you know, that that's making me think about Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web, how important stories are for organisational culture. And do you think that might be why, I mean, as you know, society in general, storytelling is in our culture, but it's also prevalent in organisations. So do you think that is why people answer with stories.

BG: Yes I think there's a lot of good reasons to answer with stories and answers this why question, and narrative scholars have said that next to language itself, the defining attribute that makes us human is our ability to story the world. So, stories are important and they should be used, but they should be used for sort of the right questions. And with that being said, and just to sort of make my case in brief that all the answers are important. I think you can make arguments for each of the other answer modes. Take concept as Victor Hugo said, nothing is as important as an idea whose time has come. And you know, the power of an idea that's what a concept is, you know, ideas change the world. So I think you can really point to ideas being central, you can point to stories being central, you can talk about actions, right? In the business world, individuals want to get work done and actions are important. So I think if you really, you know, wanted to make an argument for it, all the answer modes are important. But to go back to your point, I think stories are so innate, our ability to story the world so important. So it's not surprising that we focus on stories but my point is simple. It's just, it's more than stories.

FA: That was a great answer thank you, Brian. So for someone who, you know, is looking at answering talents, looking at the AQ framework, most people will probably be more comfortable with maybe like one or two ways of giving answers. I'm a big storyteller. I like metaphor, action, and theory I'm not so big on so what would you say to someone who, you know, would be looking to develop a different area of their AQ?

BG: Yeah, I think, you know, it's about awareness of the different answer types. It's about practice, you know, it's about trying something out. And I'll give you a sort of an example and sort of expand upon that. So many of us reflect upon answers for an important conversation. So if you think of interviews, for example, all of us have gone on interviews, particularly in the pre COVID world, we go out in the real world, right and do interviews. When the interview occurs, you start, let's say, over, you know, several weeks, right, you're sort of interviewing to get a job. And what happens is you have your first interview, and you have a story, maybe it's a little clumsy. And then as you go forward, you sort of figure out the stories that work, and you use it over and over again, and you feel comfortable. So my point is, if you're not familiar with stories, you would recognise this as a simple way to get good at stories. The same thing can occur for other answer modes. And I've worked with a lot of individuals in corporate America, and students. And oftentimes, they're very uncomfortable with metaphors. We use metaphors all the time in our everyday language, but there's sort of a reticence to use them purposefully. And I simply sort of give the example of interviews of stories. Try a metaphor, and you're going to be surprised how people react. And the same thing is true for all the other answer modes, you try them and you're going to be surprised how people react.

FA: Okay, great. So like most things it's practice then, and maybe getting a little bit out of your comfort zone as well?

BG: Yes well said.

FA: Okay, thank you. So in the book, you know, there's various scenarios in which AQ is demonstrated. And you've already alluded to interview AQ. There's also sales AQ, coaching AQ, brand AQ, etc. Are there any other examples that you might have that aren't in the book? Because obviously, we had word limits?

BG: That's, I guess, a good question. As you see in the book, we included some of the most relevant examples. I'll give you one example. You know, as I'm reaching out working with professional service firms and companies around the world, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. That was something that was a pleasant surprise in terms of an application. And I can sort of briefly expand upon that. We live in a world where Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is paramount. But if you are a senior executive team, and you want to support Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, but maybe you don't have a diverse organisation, and maybe your board itself is not diverse, you know, at the extreme, it could be white males, right? And you want to be more diverse, but how do you go from where you're at to where you want to go? And what we found, you know, working with some Diversity, Equity & Inclusion consultants, is that those individuals that want to support diversity sometimes don't have the language or the skills to communicate that desire and to get part of the conversation. So in short, AQ, is being used as a framework to help with DEI conversations. So you can think about questions people might have, you know, why diversity? Can provide a diversity story in theory? You know, what is diversity? Define it as a concept, provide a metaphor. You know, how do we implement diversity, procedures and actions? So it gives anyone interested in important conversation, a framework to engage in that conversation in a confident manner.

FA: That's a really interesting perspective there as well. You know, especially when you're talking about language, that is a big thing within EDI, using the correct language, correct terms and people learning what are those and there's plenty of people that are able to tell you and who'll be able to help. That's really good, thank you, Brian. Going back to what are we talking about before, especially you know, having face to face interviews haven't really happened in the, you know, last 18 months or so. So since people are now interacting less face to face and more virtually, verbal communication is probably more important than ever. So I guess what I'm trying to say is this is actually making AQ more important than ever. Would you agree with that?

BG: I would agree. I think the timing is interesting is you know, the book came out, you know, in April, a lot of interest around the world and it collides with the pandemic, the virtualization of work, and to your point, I think what across the spectrum from supervisors, managers and the sales context, training and development. The problem is, it's a crisis of communication. Before the pandemic, for example, in sales, b2b sales, you could go out and wine and dine your customer, and have a two hour conversation over dinner, have longer meetings, right? When you're talking, this is all changed. With virtualization, we don't have the luxury of sort of wining and dining and in effect, to some extent, perhaps being clumsy in our communication, relying on sort of, you know, sentiment and desire to create relationships. When you're in the virtual world of Zoom and Google Meets, the conversations are shorter. There's less things like body language that oftentimes I think we've all relied upon. So when you're in an environment like this with Zoom, or Google Meets, what is important is what our conversations are reduced to their essence. And in my estimation, in the book, we make an argument that conversations are nothing less than questions and answers, and your ability to navigate questions and answers determines success or failure. So what we found a lot of organisations that realise they're not communicating effectively, and they're really looking to upskill that communication, and AQ is a framework that can help to that end.

FA: I think it is so relevant entirely. And that was a complete coincidence, wasn't it? So we didn't obviously plan that. I absolutely agree. And I think a lot of people, they do work visually, as well. So when they're talking to someone, and they can't pick up those visual cues, or that body language, that would not be helpful. So face to face, it's really hard to infer whether you're saying the right thing, whether you're on the right track, that must be me, I'm just thinking the most difficult situation, one of the difficult situations would be in an interview, because you obviously infer so much from who's interviewing you and how they're sort of sitting and stuff. So yeah, it was really, really interesting. Even using video, it's still not the same, you can see someone, you can see their face, but don't see their whole body. And obviously, you know, there's there can be lag, so you don't see their reactions in time with your words, as such. So that's really interesting, Brian. So going back, do you think AQ can be more useful sort of outside the business and organisational world? Can you think of applying it inside of not the real world, but you know, your everyday conversations at home, with friends? Do you see that?

BG: Yeah, definitely. I did a TEDx presentation, Georgia Tech, and in that video, sort of provide an example. So will you be ready? You know, when your daughter asks you, what is beauty to provide the right metaphor, right? So questions and answers, whether they're explicit or implicit, are part of every important conversation in life, including family life. So you know, there's an example there seeing a lot of interest, and hopefully, in different applications that we can explore. One of which I'm really interested is like, kindergarten through fifth grade 12th grade education. As individuals in school you're taught, like I said, the six WH questions, but no parallel focus on answers. So if we want to educate our kids, and have them be able to influence others, you have to be able to provide answers. So I think that space is very intriguing to me. I've had some discussions recently around resilience for individuals. And the basic setup there is at the very macro level, those in their 20’s, and 30’s, had been through a lot over the last decade or so a lot of financial, and issues and the pandemic. And they're maybe not as resilient as the older generation or more vulnerable. So how do we help those individuals become more resilient? And I think part of the answer, no pun intended, is something like Answer Intelligence. One thing that I've reflected on that's been sort of eye opening to me is that, you know, I'm an entrepreneur, I'm taking a cue to the world and like any entrepreneur, it's sort of scary and you feel, Am I doing the right thing? And resilience comes into play. And one thing I reflected on is my resilience goes up. When I realised I have six answers around what I'm doing. I have a story for why I'm doing I've a metaphor, metaphors I tell myself, I have clear procedures and actions I use. In a similar way, If you're a young adult trying to navigate the world, you may have one answer a story you tell yourself, but if you have all the answers, you're going to harden your identity and your sense of self and be more resilient. So that's sort of a long answer there for resilience. But I think there's a lot of different applications and interested in exploring the different, you know, avenues for AQ.

FA: That's some really good examples there. So also, I know you've been quite busy, besides writing the book. Do you want to talk a little bit more, this your opportunity to plug. So you know, you can talk a bit more about the assessments, the app that's in planning stages, and also the website. You want to go and explain a bit more about that?

BG: Yes, absolutely. So first and foremost, a great place to start is the book,  the Answer Intelligence book. That's great. But what I found is that books are an important piece of the puzzle. But as I was working with enterprises around the world, I found that I needed to develop assessments and tools to help them utilise AQ, to sort of make it part of the fabric of what they're doing as an organisation. So we've developed a suite of assessments and tools that include a free exploring AQ test that anyone can take right now go to our website, and you can gauge your understanding of AQ, it's a great way to start. And I think the purpose of this tool is to make you fully aware that answers are important. And thinking through the right answers is something perhaps for many of us, we haven't thought of before, it's a good primer to sort of get you in the right direction. And we have other tools that lead up to an app, I think an app is very important communication, we think of it as a habit. Apps are good at habits, right? So iPhone, Android app, where you can make AQ, a communication habit, over four weeks, so we have an app you can use. So those are some of the tools we're developing. And we're working with professional service firms around the world and enterprises.

FA: That's great. As you said, you know, it's always good to sort of go beyond the book, the book is a great starting point. But books aren't for everyone, maybe start with the app and see how you get on. That's absolutely fine. There's also quite a bit of material on as well, isn't there?

BG: Yeah, we've had a nice collaboration with them. They have their own spotlight features about AQ write-ups, you can also purchase the book directly through MindTools. So as you know, 1000’s of visitors and many book purchases. So that's been a wonderful collaboration.

FA: I think my final question, and this actually might be a little bit tough to answer, but I'm sure you can do it. What do you see as a future for AQ? And Answer Intelligence?

BG: Yeah, that's an easy one. I’ve been thinking about that. I will say this, before I answer that. One thing I like to say when I'm talking about AQ, is that I'm a coach, not a player, because there is an expectation, if you write a book about answers, you'd be great at answers. I think I'm improving, but I know others are even better than I am so I'm a coach.

That being said, to get your question, my vision for AQ, is that this is a dominant, important communication framework that's used around the world that's going to help individuals increase their influence with others and their most important conversations. So to realise that vision, you know, we want to work through partners around the world that are leading consulting firms, training firms, coaching firms, and that's what we're doing right now. That's the vision for AQ.

FA: That's a great vision, it’s so clear that the vision that it will just be so known, I think is good, you know, just be one of those things that just naturally occurs, people start learning it and adopting it. That's what we would like to see.

So thank you for joining me today. Brian, it's been really good to talk about answer intelligence and AQ. And, you know, as I said, it's just so exciting to not just have a book but an app and assessments and all this extra things that you can do.

BG: Thank you, Fiona. And it's always a pleasure to speak with you and the things you do at Emerald are amazing. So thank you for having me on this podcast.

FA: Thank you for listening to this episode. The full transcript is available on the website as well as more information about our wonderful guest Brian, who'd like to thank again for joining me today. My thanks to Alex from This is Distorted for the editing of this podcast.