Hal Gregersen is a regular contributor to Forbes, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review, exploring how asking the right questions builds leadership, innovation and ultimately can change our world.

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Bursting the CEO Bubble

When you’re the CEO of a large organization—or even a small one—your greatest responsibility is to recognize whether it requires a major change in direction. Indeed,no bold new course of action can be launched without your say-so. Yet your power and privilege leave you insulated—perhaps more than anyone else in the company—from information that might challenge your assumptions and allow you to perceive a looming threat or opportunity. Ironically, to do what your exalted position demands, you must in some way escape your exalted position.

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What Presidential Campaigns Can Teach Leaders About Blind Spots

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The race for the White House provides a powerful reminder not to shield yourself from outside opinions.

Are you aware of your or your organization’s blind spots?

If you answered yes, you’re just plain wrong. They wouldn’t be blind spots, if you knew about them. The question is, how can you diagnose them before they sink you, manifesting themselves in a powerful, disruptive, surprising new competitor?

One way is to make sure you’re not living in a bubble. Which is easier said than done. Hal Gregersen, who coauthored The Innovator’s DNA with disruption-coiner Clayton Christensen and Jeffrey Dyer, once explained to me why. “A disruptive question…is one that someone else [e.g. an upstart competitor] is asking that you aren’t,” he said. “And the higher you go in a company, the harder it can be to uncover you don’t know what you don’t know.”

How The Most Successful People Ask Questions

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Most companies hold brainstorming sessions that identify solutions, but Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and coauthor ofThe Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, suggests holding “question-storming” sessions that think of nothing but questions about a problem for a given period of time.

“When people care about the issue, when they have thought a lot about the issue but they are stuck, that’s the point at which it’s perfect to step back and say: ‘Okay, question storming time,’” he says.

Have your team generate at least 50 questions about the problem. At about question 25, Gregersen says it will stall. “I have watched this a hundred times around the world,” he says. “People say: ‘I don’t have any more questions, I am stuck.’ Keep going, because it’s that pass forward that can sometimes give you some of the greatest questions.”

Question storming a long series of questions gets you closer to the right questions that will give you the right answer, says Gregersen. “And that’s where question storming complements traditional brainstorming,” he says.

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Hal Gregersen Named to The Thinkers50 Global Ranking of Management Thinkers

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Hal Gregersen has been named to the Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers, the world’s most prestigious ranking of management thinkers. Published every two years, the Thinkers50 global ranking is the essential guide to which business thinkers and ideas are in – and which have been consigned to business history.

The Executive Director for the MIT Sloan School’s Center of Leadership, Gregersen is coauthor (with Clay Christensen and Jeffrey Dyer) of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), and founder of The 4-24 Project, which is committed to building the next generation of innovators.

His current research, with Clay Christensen, is focused on the power of questioning and how the most successful leaders are able to identify the right question – rather than the solution – to unlock a vexing challenge. His other co-authored books include: It Starts With One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations (Wharton, 2008); and Global Explorers: The Next Generation of Leaders (Routledge, 1999).

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How To Train Yourself To Excel In Uncomfortable Situations

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We’ve all been there: You’re feeling out of your comfort zone at work. Your face is flushed, your heart is racing, and your mind is a jumble. Everyone’s waiting for you to get it together. Then someone else jumps in, taking control with confidence and utter calm.

Why are you so flustered while some of your colleagues can handle these situations with grace? Chances are they feel many of the same emotions. The difference is just that they’ve learned to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. That takes practice, not inborn talent. Over time, leaders learn to stretch their comfort levels and modify their environments so it’s easier to respond to tricky situations. This enables them to manage tough circumstances better and to spot and confront challenges earlier. Here are three steps to help you do all that.

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How asking tough questions could save your career

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Had Kodak’s leaders ratcheted up their discomfort level by asking more challenging questions from others, it may well have sustained its legacy as a key industry player.

At age four, we’re fueled with curiosity, asking thousands of questions to better grasp what’s going on around us. Already we are aware, at a very fundamental level, that questioning helps us feel our way around a situation and develop entirely new ways of engaging with the world.

It isn’t long, however, before we enter an educational system that rewards answers more than questions. Consider that the average child between six- to 18-years old asks only one question per one-hour class per month. Contrast that with the average teacher, who peppers kids with 300 to 600 questions a day and waits an average of one second for each reply, and you have a recipe for what I call the “Global Questioning Crisis.”

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The surprising way to come up with your next business idea

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By simply observing others, Intuit founder and CEO Scott Cook built one of America’s biggest companies.

Scott Cook, founder and CEO of Intuit, didn’t come up with his concept for the popular Quicken money management software sitting behind the desk or spit-balling ideas in a brainstorming session. He first conceived of it while watching his wife grow increasingly frustrated preparing the family’s finances. From a single observation, combined with Cook’s understanding of computers, one of the world’s most successful financial software companies was born.

Consider all of the times you’ve asked yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” Indeed, the world’s next pioneering innovation could be sitting in plain view for anyone to discover. But what is it that inspires some people to take the next step on something overlooked by others?

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Here’s why networking isn’t just about landing your dream job

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Most people network to find their next big gig, but here’s how to network to find your next big business idea.

At a dinner party a few years ago, Salesforce Founder Marc Benioff and Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston got to talking. Their conversation led to a new idea, and that idea led to Salesforce’s Chatter, an enterprise social network, Benioff recalled during an interview I had with him two years ago (for an upcoming book about what causes senior leaders, especially CEOs, to ask the right questions before someone else does it for them).

Their conversation led to a new idea, and that idea led to Salesforce’s Chatter, an enterprise social network. Chatter was not just a result of a chance encounter. At the age of 50, Benioff regularly invites 20- and 30-something year-old entrepreneurs to his house for dinner. It’s in this pursuit of perspectives different than his own that he is able to constantly bring new services and ideas to market. Benioff, who is known to buy smaller firms for people (not products), once told me, “I don’t have all the ideas. That isn’t my job. My job is to build a culture of innovation.”

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The one skill that made Amazon’s CEO wildly successful

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Jeff Bezos’ start-up story offers one of the strongest cases for how to build a new business through experimentation.

As a child, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos spent his summers fixing windmills and repairing equipment on his grandparents’ ranch in Texas. Though these experiences might have seemed insignificant at the time, today Bezos credits his summers tinkering with ranch equipment for his penchant for experimentation. And it’s his drive to push the boundaries of what’s possible that have helped Amazon gain — and maintain — its reign as the largest and most successful Internet retail company in the world.

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How dolphins and Legos could spark your next business idea

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Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff knew how to step back and relax, having perfected the idea for his company while swimming with dolphins.

It’s impossible to imagine a world without Google’s search engine, Apple’s iPhone or Disney World. These products are integral to life as most of us know it, but they might never have existed if Larry Page, Steve Jobs and Walt Disney didn’t excel at a critical discovery skill: associational thinking. These leaders saw opportunity in – and created works of genius from – things others didn’t believe belonged together.

Innovators think differently. For years, my colleagues and I studied high-impact leaders and innovators – getting inside their heads to reveal the behaviors separating them from the rest of us. Associating, or connecting the seemingly unconnected, is a cognitive skill at the core of the innovator’s DNA. Yet, in business, it’s one of the most undervalued skills.

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