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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

Change the Question, Change Your Kids

Basketball, innovation and disciplineIn a recent blog entry, I discussed how changing the questions you ask can change your results, which in turn can change your life.

Not too long ago I gave a speech whereafter someone in the audience asked me how this approach to asking questions could be applied to raising children, in particular his high school age son.

I made it clear that I do not have any children of my own and I know close to nothing about parenting. But he persisted in looking for my advice.

He told me, “Steve, I’m having a problem with my teenage son. How do I use your approach to get him to be more disciplined with his basketball practice? He seems to lack motivation.”

My immediate reaction was, “Discipline? This reminds me of someone being punished for doing something wrong (such as disciplinary action). This clearly would not motivate me!” Needless to say, I did not share this thought.

My second thought was that maybe he was asking the wrong question. I asked him, “Why basketball?”

He indicated that basketball taught discipline (there’s that word again), teamwork, and leadership.

Ok, but aren’t there other hobbies that teach those skills? Does his son even like basketball? Maybe he doesn’t like sports. Perhaps he wants to pursue something more creative or intellectual. Maybe the issue is not one of motivation but rather a lack of interest. The first question I would ask his son is, “What hobbies would get you out of bed? What do you love to do?” There are many endeavors beyond sports that teach rigor, teamwork, camaraderie, social-skills, leadership, and more. Early on in life I chose music as my area of interest, and it has served me well.

This leads me to my final thought, which I will illustrate through a personal story.

When I was in fifth grade, I showed a lot of interest in the saxophone. At that time I was taking group lessons. I wanted to take my sax playing to the next level so my parents offered up private lessons, with a caveat: if they were going to pay for private lessons, I would have to agree to practice at least one hour a day, three times a week.

No way! I was not going to be forced into anything. So I didn’t take private lessons that year. But did I practice? You betcha! I practiced 90 minutes a day, five days a week! Interest wasn’t the problem.

Maybe his son loves basketball but he’s just being rebellious. It has to be his choice. So the question might be, “What would it take for you to be self-motivated around basketball (or whatever hobby he chooses)? What’s getting in the way of your not participating fully? What can I do more of – or less of – as a parent?”

Of course there are many other questions that could be asked, and many other reasons why the teenager might not as motivated as his father would like him to be.

But my guess is that instead of forcing him to practice basketball, the solution might be found in a conversation; a conversation focused on provocative questions.