Philie Group Blog

Asking Questions and Curiosity
By Mike Philie

This blog originally published in Printing Impressions.


As the leader of the business, you’re expected to have all the answers. Sometimes though, the biggest impact is made by the questions you ask, not answer. They may be technical questions or about a new prospect. They may even be as simple as asking an employee what they do for a hobby or like to do on the weekends. Leaders aren’t afraid to ask questions, asking why or how, even if it shows they don’t have all the answers. It shows humility, can stir curiosity and discussion, and helps them to connect with their team. I recall my first experience in having to transform a business. In addressing the entire company, I asked them for their help and their ideas as I didn’t have a magic wand to simply wave and that all would be good.


A culture of curiosity

So now let’s move out to the production floor and see what type of questions are being asked there. I was thinking about the machine operation codes that are available to an operator in one of the many production areas. They would include, make-ready, run, wash up, waiting (for something or someone), maintenance, housekeeping, and I’m sure several more. Some companies might also have a “R&D” code to use when they’re trying something new or just struggling with a job. How many businesses have a “I’m thinking about how to do this job more efficiently” or “how can I deliver a better product to the client” code. Might be a good time to ask whether or not you’re really encouraging innovation and how you facilitate it.


Innovation department

The best ideas don’t come from the innovation department. How many of you even have such a department and if you did, how would you staff it? The reality is that the good ideas come from discussions, usually across different departments, about how to solve a problem or do something better than you did yesterday. In an offset pressroom recently, I asked the lead operator what the impact of taking five minutes out of each make-ready would be? He didn’t have the exact answer and that’s not what’s important. He did acknowledge the huge savings it could bring. I challenged him to think of the steps he could take to make that happen. Spoiler alert: we’re not there yet but making progress. Another approach would have been for me to point out the 2-3 things that I thought he should do differently, but I believe that we’ll get even better ideas and results from his curiosity and engagement in how to achieve this.


Disruptions or new ideas?

While this may all sound good in theory, how will it affect the smooth running production model you’ve built? I’m not trying to be naïve here but I think you can have both. In a production environment where schedules need to be kept and performance expectations need to be met, we’re still looking for new ideas, for innovation. Unless you are running 24/7 with no down time, I still see opportunity. What would happen if your staff was encouraged to try new things or collaborate with someone to solve a problem during a slow time. As it is now, they tend to expand the existing work to fill the time they will be there (I know, not in your company they don’t). Handled the right way, this could change the culture of the business, get more engagement from your folks, and who knows, maybe a couple good ideas. Give this some thought and determine if it’s something you could introduce in your business. Good luck with this and have fun.



Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic assessments, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at www.philiegroup.comLinkedIn or email at






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