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Big Ideas

Asking Your Own Big Questions

by Minda Zetlin

Summer 2017

For today’s business and technology executives, asking big questions about the future might seem like a great idea—for someone else. Most are already struggling with management decisions such as budgeting, hiring, and solving immediate problems for their team or organization. Governments, universities, and think tanks have traditionally grappled with the big futuristic questions. Why should things be any different today?

Because today’s challenges affect the nature of government itself, argues David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow (TED Books, 2017). “If you look at government, fundamental aspects of it are changing,” Rothkopf says. “So are fundamental aspects of life. What is a job? What is the purpose of life? Where do dignity and identity come from? Those are the questions we have got to deal with, and some of them have special consequences for business and technology leaders.”

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Most governments aren’t equipped to even consider issues like these, he adds. “One reason the role of business leaders is so important is that the people who understand this current revolution are not in government. They’re in the world of technology. Therefore, they’re the only ones who have the vocabulary and vision and foresight to begin to answer these questions.”

So if you want to ask your own big questions, where should you start? With simplicity, advises futurist and author Jacob Morgan. “The best place to start is with the simplest and most basic questions that we just never think about asking,” he says. These include such questions as “What is work?” and “Who is an employee?”

“What products should we build?” and “What market should we enter?” are the types of big strategic questions business leaders have always been good at asking and answering, Morgan adds. “It’s the simple yet foundational questions that we never bother to ask because we always take them as a given—that’s where I’d start.”

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