Getting Unstuck: It Starts with a Question

By Sally Wilson, Sally Wilson Associates, Coach and Independent Consultant & Trainer to higher education

This is the title of a piece written by Renee Charney (February 19, 2014) that gave me food for thought – especially as I had committed to writing the ODHE blog this month (and have only just made it by a stroke of the keys!). My ‘stuckness’ for a topic was also informed by an ODHE colleague recently circulating an SOS with the comment ‘why do we suddenly go blank when we’re asked to produce something ‘innovative’?!’

This had me pondering on the expectations of OD departments by their organisations and the notion that somehow ‘they’ (OD) will ‘pull something out of the bag’. Mindful of Cindy’s January blog on making the complex simple, I’m struck by the more complex the difficulty facing an organisation, the higher their expectation of OD and the consequent pressure on OD colleagues, together with the pressure they place on themselves to be ‘creative and innovative’.

Being stuck at times is part of the human condition. Charney identifies being stuck as sometimes ‘feeling out of control and unable to unravel the twisty-turny, thorn-ridden mess’ before us. We’ve all been there, and we’ll be there again. The challenge is perhaps determining why we’re stuck.

For example, a project/commission/problem presented to OD can initially sound like it would be straightforward enough, but turns out to be ‘a bear of a project’. Charney goes on to say her own identification with this is ”I get embroiled in distractions, each one potentially sending me in a slightly new direction. I’m like the lost wanderer standing at a crossroads, but each time I think I’ve made my decision I suddenly see another road opening up and I think “That might be an interesting path to poke around for a while…..”


As in coaching and problem-solving, it starts with a question.  What questions might help to lead us from uncertainty and avoid paralysis?

How willing am I to do something different around this? How much choice do I have about the way in which I act ? What currently stops me taking action? What am I reacting to in this situation? What do I know? What do I need to know? What models/techniques do I have for bridging the gap? Would a graph/visual of the situation help? Should any segments be added to a diagram?

What types of questions help you get unstuck?

One thought on “Getting Unstuck: It Starts with a Question

  1. Hi Sally I loved your posting on what questions help us to become unstuck. Here are some questions that help me:

    To think creatively: If this was a **** [insert a visual metaphor here] what would its qualities be? What qualities does my problem already have? How might I apply the metaphorical qualities to my problem to help solve it?

    To step back from the problem – Being in OD we are often expected to come up with the answers, but we also expect to be able to come up with them ourselves. It means that we can forget to ask ourselves the very questions that we encourage others to ask, such as – who could do this different to me, but probably quicker or better? Who would see this as a great learning opportunity and benefit from doing it themselves?

    To really unstick – reverse the problem and see if that helps. Today I was working with an academic on developing an exercise for students on ‘learning’ and we wanted it to be interactive, with the students ‘putting something in’ – we were wrestling with it for some time and it wasn’t working. Then we thought what if instead of expecting them to ‘put something in’, we ask them to ‘take something out’ – and it completely flipped the exercise on its head and gave us a much better solution!

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