How Can You Drive Performance With Absurd Questions?

Imagine a workplace where meetings don't exist... No more hours wasted in conference rooms 🕑 No more disruptions to your important tasks 🤹‍♂️ And no more feeling like your time is being wasted 🗑 What if we challenged the idea of meetings and explored how getting rid of them could greatly improve our productivity and overall performance?

In one of my previous newsletters, I shared a concept that I particularly enjoy: absurd questions.

In the realm of decision-making and performance, optimisations and processes are often perceived as kings. They can offer good answers and incremental returns but will rarely lead to a breakthrough.

Absurd questions are one of the most interesting tools to foster radical innovation.

These questions help us think differently. They help us to think outside the box. They ask us to make abstractions of reality or, more specifically, our perceived reality.

They can sometimes feel useless because, as intriguing as it might sound, wondering which animal species would be the rudest if it could talk is unlikely to make our team’s performance leap and reach new heights.

They can also be risky as they push us out of our comfort zone and ask us to deviate from the norms and the expected. 

But this is precisely because they can push us in new directions that absurd questions have tremendous potential. As we force ourselves to part way with our perceived reality, we have to question it. And this can help us uncover blind spots, clarify misconceptions and dissolve limiting beliefs.

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Of course, not all absurd questions are made equal. I defined three categories that I find pretty valuable when it comes to performance – either for individuals or teams.

I named them the 3Is, for:

  • Impossible Constraints
  • Imperial Decrees
  • Insane Futures

I already discussed in my other newsletter absurd questions with impossible constraints, which usually revolve around how to achieve a goal while removing a critical resource like time, staff or even knowledge.

Like, “how would you get this 6-month project completed in 3 days?”. Of course, the initial reaction is often: “well, that’s impossible”. And most probably, it is. But the point is that trying to answer this absurd question forces us to think differently. 

We have another look at the project. We can start wondering what is truly important. What could we cut back on? And so forth. This sheds a new light on your project.

“Imperial Decrees” are another type of absurd question I love. These are the ones that take the opposite stance than the agreed consensus. In the blink of an eye, a new law is passed, corporate regulation is changed, or aliens brainwash us, and from then on, we have to move away from the consensus.

Usually, I use it to review what would happen if a team were to stop activities or change the way of doing things. 

What if we did not require any resume or diploma to hire someone?

What if we change the work week from 5 days to 14 days followed by one week break?

And the list goes on. 

Look at the norm, and deviate from it. Find the consensus, and break it.

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If you have worked in corporate environments, you know there is one thing you cannot escape (even if you dread it): meetings. Oftentimes, coworkers can see each other’s calendars to find a suitable time to plan and invite each other to a meeting. 

Everyone “agrees” that this is the most efficient way to manage meetings since it avoids the unproductive and tedious back and forth of emails, with the famous “what about tomorrow’s at 3pm?” or “sorry, I double-booked, could we reschedule?”.

But, what if, from now on, nobody could see each other’s calendars? To go one step further, what if automatically enrolling someone for a meeting was forbidden?

For some managers, I’m sure this question is not only absurd, but plain stupid. After all, who, in his right mind, would decide to adopt such an inefficient communication system?

Turns out, someone did. Jason Fried, CEO of the software company Basecamp.

For him, if someone else can see your calendar and invite you for a meeting, suddenly, you are not in control of your time anymore. When we receive a calendar invitation from a colleague, our default behaviour is to accept it, even if there is no point for us to join this meeting.

When we are not in control of our time, with meetings popping right and left, it becomes harder to plan long and uninterrupted blocks of time to perform deep work. 

We can also struggle to focus and even procrastinate because in our mind there is this open tab that says: “you have a meeting in 45 minutes”, and we are like: “well, I cannot start working on this if I have to stop soon – I’m better off looking at my emails”.

Not seeing someone else’s calendar creates friction and forces the organiser to think: “Do I really need to invite Jeannie to this meeting?”. 

Jason went even further on this idea – asking any meeting organiser to explain to each person they wish to invite not only the agenda of the meeting but also why the person’s presence is required. And simply stating: “information” was rarely good enough.

So the organiser has to think about who to invite and why. The invitee also has the opportunity to say no more easily, without the tacit pressure of: “I’ve seen you’re free.

All of these reflections stem from a single absurd question: “what if there were no more meetings?” This specific example might work for some organisations or, at a smaller scale, some teams, while it ends being ineffective for others. 

Yet, the potential of absurd questions is undeniable.

I hope you enjoyed reading this newsletter and it will help you think differently. 

And if you read attentively, you know I haven’t explained what the “insane futures” category is. That will be the subject of another newsletter, but if you cannot wait, send me a message, and I will tell you a bit more.

To your success,

Lison Xx


PS: Thank you for reading this newsletter. If someone has forwarded this to you, you can subscribe here.


Whenever you are ready, here are a few ways I can help:

  • I recently had two executive coaching spots available. One is left. If you are interested, reply to this email and let’s have a chat.
  • If you are about to make an important decision for yourself (or your team) – let me be part of your inner circle and work towards your success, book a call with me to discuss this.
  • Book one of my workshops for your team to elevate energy and performance. More information here.
  • With my first book Act Before You overThink to learn how to make better decisions faster and liberate your mind from the constant chatter that hinders your potential. You can buy it here.
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Picture of Lison Mage

Lison Mage

I help clever individuals and teams conquer overthinking and perform at their full potential. Together, we can go from a place of uncertainty and being paralyzed by doubt to gaining clarity on your current situation, where you want to go, and how to get you there!

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