Questions for My Dying Father

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll never forget when Dad called to tell me he had a brain tumour.

That night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. A million things were running through my head. Amongst them was a query: “If Dad might be dying, what questions  could or should I be asking him?”

[At that point we didn’t know that it was a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an incredibly aggressive brain tumour. The clock was ticking fast. He died 6 months later on the 24th of Jan 2016.]

So I started an Evernote file called “Questions for Dad”.

I listed some of my own questions and began the search for others.

Over the following weeks and months, I collected questions from friends who’d had their fathers or mothers die – what they had found useful, wished they’d asked, or topics they wished they’d covered with the benefit of hindsight.

Recently I was asked for the questions I’d gathered so I wanted to share them here.

Some of these I was able to ask, others there just wasn’t time or capacity to address. The GBM dramatically affected Dad’s cognitive function and within two or three months, lucid conversations of any length became rare.

Uncomfortable conversations

As you’ll see below some of the questions sparked uncomfortable conversations, others were immensely practical, and others were really uplifting. Often they were a combination. I’m grateful for them all.

I found this 3 part framework really helpful as a purpose for the conversations I wanted to have with Dad:

  1. Please forgive me.
  2. I forgive you.
  3. Thank you, I love you.

(Unfortunately I can’t find the reference article but it may be linked the Hawaiian practice of Hoʻoponopono.)

I feel fortunate to have asked questions and had conversations that included the first two and that highlighted the third.

A small request – if you have any questions that you found to be good in the process, please leave them below in the comments. It would be great to make this a useful resource for people who stumble across this googling in the middle of a dark night.

I hope you find this list useful.

Thanks.


Questions for Dad

  1. What has become more important to you over time?
  2. What advice would you give your 30 year old self?
  3. What are you most proud of?
  4. What are you least proud of?
  5. Is there anything you’d do differently if you knew what you know now?
  6. What do you regret the most?
  7. When do you think you’ve been happiest in your life? Why?
  8. What do you wish you’d asked your parents before they’d died?
  9. What’s something I don’t know about you?
  10. Are you proud of me?
  11. Why did you and Mum get divorced? Why did you drift apart? What were the underlying reasons?
  12. Do you have any advice for me for my marriage?
  13. What do I want out of this?
  14. What do you want out of the next few weeks/months?
  15. Who would you like to spend time with?
  16. Is there anything you’d like to do together?
  17. Do you need help with your will or finances?
  18. Can you tell me about your childhood, teenage years, video/audio?
  19. What did you love in those years?
  20. What did it feel like to have children?
  21. How do you feel about mortality?
  22. What one thing would make you feel better today?
  23. Is there anything left unsaid in our relationship?
  24. Please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you.
  25. What event had the biggest impact on you?
  26. What was one of the worst moments in your life? What did you do about it?
  27. What was life like before you had children?

Other resources I found useful through that time:

 

“2 Chairs” decision making

The first time I used the 2 chairs game as a decision making technique was when I was invited to go to the Australian Institute of Sport on scholarship for a year straight after finishing high school.

Frankly I was terrified.

The AIS was the training ground of the best players in the country and I was afraid of what the environment would be like, of being alone (I didn’t really know anyone well in Canberra), of leaving my mum and dad, siblings, friends and a university placement offer…

The stakes felt incredibly high. Should I go or should I stay? I asked everyone I trusted – coaches, family, friends –  some said yes, others no, others asked great questions.

I was secretly hoping someone would make the decision for me.

They didn’t and in hindsight couldn’t. It was mine to own.

Enter the 2 Chair game

It was my mum (who’d learned it from my gran) who suggested this 2 Chairs game to try to help clarify my thinking.

[Note: Part of great decision making and problem solving is how you frame the question in the first place. This exercise assumes you’ve done that. Once you’ve framed the question to a yes/no, go/stay kind of answer, then this 2 Chairs game can help to crystallise your thinking.]

Here’s how it’s played.

How to play

  1. Place 2 chairs in a room facing one another.
  2. Allocate one chair as the “Yes” chair, the other as the “No” chair. (Or Go/Stay chair etc)
  3. Sit in the Yes chair.
  4. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say yes. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  5. Change chairs to the No chair.
  6. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say no. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  7. Repeat the chair swap until you run out of reasons completely.
  8. Which chair will you sit in? Have you made your decision?

Guiding principles

  • There are no trivial reasons. Say them all out loud.
  • This can be played out with trusted people in the room to help prompt your thinking or can be done alone.
  • Keeping notes can be useful.
  • Keep moving between the chairs even if it’s only for 1 reason at a time.

The Outcome

I went to the AIS. This decision was pivotal in accomplishing my Olympic dream.

This game helped me to voice all of the opinions and data I had gathered and settle on a Yes decision. Ultimately the deciding reason in the Yes chair, was that I didn’t want to look back and regret passing up the opportunity. All of the other reasons really paled beside that.

Since then I’ve used this process and shared it with friends for similar decision making situations. Reflecting on the original and subsequent experiences, I’ll add a couple of final thoughts.

  • I’ve found the physical movement between the chairs useful to really get into the mindset to extract all the reasons running around my head.
  • Sometimes I find myself sitting in one chair over the other and realise that the decision has been made.
  • Even when it hasn’t led to a clear decision, it has always been useful to extract the for and against.
  • Decisions are rarely as binary as yes or no. Is there a third way? A middle path? What are other questions that are useful in making better decisions?

 

Using Death as a Compass

“But time, is on your side, it’s on your side, now” Cold Play

Sadly Coldplay were lying. It’s never on our side.

When I think about flying, it’s essentially a tin can thousands of meters above the earth travelling at hundreds of kilometres per hour. It’s a humbling reminder of how precious life is.

So every time I get on a plane, to fly through the air in essentially a tin can, I ask myself 2 questions:

“Does everyone I love know I love them?”

I mentally tick through my list of wife, children, family and friends. If they might not be sure, then I have a job to do when I land.

“If this plane goes down, am I content with what I’ve accomplished and the impact I’ve made so far in my life?”

If the answer is no or halfhearted, it’s time to take stock.

 

How to solve any problem in 20 mins – The Value of Extreme Questioning

Quick Background:

I learned about the Extreme Questioning process from Liz Wiseman (author of Multipliers) at her one day workshop at the Growth Summit. Obviously I’m a big fan – this is my 3rd blog post on this book! Here’s no.1 + no.2.

[side note: everytime I say Extreme Questioning, I feel like there should be a dramatic voice over!]

In the workshop which Adam and I both attended, Liz organised a 5 minute exercise to get us in the groove of relentless questioning – one of the top traits of all great leaders from her book. We picked an issue then chose roles. Adam asked the questions first, and I answered, then we switched it over.

I was excited! Even in 5 minutes, I had a much clearer idea of the problem we’d been discussing. I made a mental note to use it in the future if I was stuck on a problem. Sure enough…

So yesterday, this was my problem:

In late January, we decided to significantly change our hosting arrangement. Since then, Sam (a web strategy advisor and our resident hosting guru) and I have been furiously gathering information from our supplier about everything from hosting packages and the steps involved in the transition, all the way through to common mistakes and pitfalls of the process.

After 4 weeks of examining the problem from all angles, I still felt daunted and overwhelmed by project. I had all the background info I needed, but couldn’t quite bring it together into a project plan.

My problem was my opportunity, so I grabbed Ads and asked him if we could use Extreme Questioning to help me get some clarity.

How to do Extreme Questioning:

There are 2 roles:

  1. The Questioner – they don’t have to be knowledgeable of the issue. In this case it was Adam – he knew about the plan but not the details.
  2. The Answerer  – they need to have been immersed in the data. This was me. I’d been doing the research along with Sam.

The process:

  1. Questioner: Ask every question you can dream up around the topic until you can’t think of any more – how, when, where, why, what, who, which (example questions below in +++ section). Only ask questions.
  2. Answerer: Respond in as much detail as you possibly can to every question.
  3. Answerer: Take loads of notes as you go. (Preferably find a scribe to join in)
  4. Questioner: Once you’ve run out of questions, then ask the Answerer one more question: “Are there any other areas of this problem that you’d like me to ask you about?
  5. Repeat steps 1-3 as many times as necessary until the Answerer says “Ah-ha!”.

Total time:

22mins including note taking. (this would change depending on the problem you’re trying to solve)

[side note: OK, I definitely took liberties with the title of this post – good luck with World Peace in 20 mins!]

Result:

After 3 weeks of research and 1 week of trying to put a plan together, to be able to do this in 22 mins was an incredible result.

For me it wasn’t so much of an “Ah-ha” moment, but by the time Adam had finally run out of questions, I realised that I no longer felt daunted and the picture was much clearer in my  mind. I was able to immediately put together a step by step plan to show Sam, including the issues and responsibilities. I also had some great updates for the phone scripts we were going to use.

What helped me get the most out of it:

  1. Had all the information by doing thorough research
  2. Taking notes – lots of them

What would I do differently next time?

  1. Find a scribe!
  2. Do it much earlier in the planning process. I could have saved much more time doing this earlier rather than waiting for a 3 week research/1 week planning process. As it was, I’m happy to have shipped the plan!

Final thoughts: I will definitely be telling staff about this. Provided it’s done so the Answerer is open to it (and so they don’t feel like it’s an interrogation!), it will massively shortcut problem solving.

As always, please let me know if it works (or doesn’t) for you in the comments.

++++++++

Some sample questions (there are obviously a stack of questions you can use, the key point is to keep asking!):

  1. Why are you doing this? Why is that important?
  2. Which options have you assessed?
  3. Who is involved in this process?
  4. Who needs to be informed?
  5. How does it impact you? How does it impact others?
  6. How will it make things better? For you? For others?
  7. What might go wrong? For you? For others?
  8. What are the steps to getting this done? What has to happen first? What has to happen last? Why?
  9. When is your deadline to accomplish this?
  10. What might stop you from achieving it by that date?
  11. What further information do you need?
  12. Where will you store the information?
  13. …?

+++++++

How to Discover “Native Genius” – Taking action on Multipliers

This is a follow up on my previous blog post, the 4 Key leadership learnings from Multipliers.

On Monday this week, Adam organised a “Native Genius” session for one of our Bluewire Media monthly meetings. It was a cracker! In fact it is probably one of the best sessions we’ve ever conducted with our team.

Here’s what I wrote to Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown as feedback on the session:

I can’t tell you how energizing it was! It’s incredible to watch people around the table really identify what is the absolute best in their team mates. Then the reaction of the person in the “hot seat” – as they come to realise what others believe is their strongest quality, understand what it is that really drives them and realise how it translates not just to work, but across all aspects of their lives – was inspiring! The formal reviews we had scheduled for the next day were quite different as a result too.

If you wanted to watch the same unfold in your organisation, here’s how the session rolled out:

  • Get your group together (we did it with 6 of us – this was a good size and we had all been working together for quite a while which probably helped too)
  • Read through the description of “Native Genius” from the book:

A native genius is something that people do, not only exceptionally well, but absolutely naturally. They do it easily (without extra effort) and freely (without condition)…They get results that are head-and-shoulders above others but they do it without breaking a sweat.

  • Choose the person whose “Native Genius” you want to discover (let’s call it putting them in the “Hot Seat”)
  • Read through the 5 discovery questions (p48 ):

What do they do better than anything else they do?

What do they do better than the people around them?

What do they do without effort?

What do they do without being asked?

What do they do readily without being paid?

  • Get everyone’s input on that person’s Native Genius and write them down
  • Once everyone in the group (including the person in the “Hot Seat”) has had their say, summarise and then label their Native Genius!
  • Repeat this process, including the description and the questions, for each person in the group.

Good luck!

If you give this a try, I’d love to hear how your team responded and what you got from it.

4 key leadership learnings from “Multipliers” (by Liz Wiseman)

Multipliers - Liz Wiseman
The premise of Multipliers written by Liz Wiseman, is that any leader can be placed on a spectrum between being a Multiplier (good) and being a Diminisher (bad). (If you’re interested in finding out your style, try this questionnaire.)

What is a Multiplier?

“A leader who uses their smarts to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them”.

What is a Diminisher?

“A leader who drains intelligence, energy and capability from the ones around them and always needs to be the smartest one in the room”.

The book aims to help us move away from a Diminisher style of leadership towards the style of a Multiplier, stating that there is at least a 2x greater return on resources for Multipliers vs Diminishers.

It outlines the 5 different roles that a Multiplier plays:

  1. The Talent Magnet – looks for talent everywhere, finds people’s native genius, utilises people to their fullest, and removes blockers (eg prima donnas)
  2. The Liberator – creates space (to think, speak, and act), demands the best work and generates rapid learning cycles
  3. The Challenger – seeds the opportunity, lays down the challenge, then generates belief in what is possible
  4. The Debate Maker – frames the issue, sparks the debate and drives a sound decision
  5. The Investor – defines ownership, invests resources and holds people accountable

These 5 roles are what the book calls the Multiplier Formula. What makes it a great “how to” book are the chapter summaries of these roles to be used as a quick reference once you’ve finished reading (or if you don’t have time to read the whole thing!).

I dog eared some pages (sorry book lovers) as I read, so I could keep track of the things that really resonated with me.

Here are 4 of them:

1. Ask questions

A Multiplier asks questions constantly. Then listens intently. They listen far more than they speak. I’ve heard this plenty of times before, but it’s great to have it reinforced. (I’m going to start counting my questions in meetings from now on.)

2. Native genius

Multipliers go looking for native genius in everyone around them. I loved this concept! (On page 61, there are 3 steps to help you begin genius watching too). What’s more it really aligns beautifully with what we’re trying to do at Bluewire Media – which is “Do what you love”.

A native genius is something that people do, not only exceptionally well, but absolutely naturally. They do it easily (without extra effort) and freely (without condition)…They get results that are head-and-shoulders above others but they do it without breaking a sweat.

3. “Calmness is not synonymous with softness”

Multipliers remain calm even when under pressure, but are intensely focussed. They create environments that are intense not tense.

4. Make your own mistakes known

There’s a great example in the book of a weekly meeting agenda item called “The Weekly Screw-up”. If you as the leader share your mistakes, then others will be far more willing to share theirs. As a result you’ll breed a culture of transparency where mistakes are not punished but learned from. We’ve just added this to our weekly meeting agenda so I’m looking forward to watching the results.

In summary: This really is a good book in an excellent “How To” format. Plenty of case studies and stories to drive home the points and the chapter summaries will be great quick reference tools.

Have you read it? If so, what did you like about it? What were the things you found most interesting/applicable?