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Listen Closely to What People Ask You. That's Where to Find Your Hidden Power.

When people ask questions, they're revealing what your value is to them.

By
This story appears in the September 2022 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Keep track of the questions people ask you. It could be the most valuable data you ever get.

Why? Because when people ask you questions, they're really telling you this: "Here's how
I think you're valuable to me."

Now you know how to serve them. There is no greater superpower than that.

In fact, this single insight changed my career — and led me to write a book that comes out in September. It's called Build for Tomorrow, and it's full of stories and exercises to help you thrive in changing times, and to find new opportunities. I would be honored if you bought it.

Related: Stop Applying Old Methods to New Problems. It's Time to Start From Scratch.

Now I want to explain where it came from, and how it was born from this realization I had about questions. I want to inspire you to listen closely to the questions people ask you — so that you can become the answer they need.

For me, it all goes back to when I became editor in chief of Entrepreneur in 2016. People invited me to speak at their events and be interviewed on their podcasts, neither of which I'd done much of before. And everywhere I went, people asked the same question: What are the qualities of successful entrepreneurs?

That struck me as weird. Why did everyone ask the same thing?! Then I realized why: It's because I have access to the smartest entrepreneurs! This means that people didn't see me as an editor, the way I saw myself. Instead, they saw me as a pattern-matcher who could identify trends among people.

This was my value to them. It was the thing they trusted me to be. And I realized something: If I could fulfill that role, I'd be an even greater resource.

Related: Success Is the Biggest Benefit of Being Adaptable

So I studied. I looked for commonalities among the people I met, and dug deep into their stories. Eventually I came to an answer: The most successful people are adaptable! They change where others get stuck — and that isn't a skill they were born with. They learned it along the way.

But how? That's what I needed to understand next. I'm a big believer in experimentation: When you put ideas into the world, you get to learn from people's reactions to them. So I started writing on the subject. In response, people shared their own insights, anxieties, and stories with me.

Then the pandemic arrived. It forced everyone to change, all at once. That was terrifying, of course, but it also became the world's most powerful test case. Some people reinvented themselves and plowed ahead, and others clung to the past and fell behind. What separated these two groups? And how did the most adaptable people push through their fear?

That's when I recognized the pattern. Change happens in four phases: First we panic, then we adapt, then we find a new normal, and then we reach "wouldn't go back" — that moment when we have something so new and valuable that we say, "I wouldn't want to go back to a time before I had this." The most successful people move through these phases the smoothest.

Related: Google's CEO Is Asking Employees 3 Simple Questions to Boost Productivity

That's when I knew: I finally had the full answer to the question people kept asking me. And I had a book to write.

Where do big ideas come from? They start with something that people already want — and wouldn't you know it, they're even telling you what that is! We must be wise enough to listen to their questions, and humble enough to realize that we won't have answers immediately.

Then we must ask our own questions — of ourselves and others. We must experiment with our own answers. And finally, we can deliver the value that people hoped we would.

I hope that, for you, Build for Tomorrow is that value. Please let me know.

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