“What would make this call wildly successful for you?” he said.

I froze.

I’m usually not at a loss for words. I may not (okay, usually do not) find the rightwords, but I can usually find some words.

Not this time.

And I’m embarrassed to admit I thought, “A wildly successful phone call? Phone calls are phone calls. Interviews are interviews. Wildly successful — who thinks that way?

Mike Williams, the president and CEO of the David Allen Company (the Getting Things Done folks), does.

After I stopped stammering Mike said, “A great way to be significantly more productive is to start anything you’re about to do with one question: What does a wildly successful outcome for this meeting, project, conversation — whatever it might be — look like? If you ask that question up front you co-create success: people knows what you’re shooting for and actively work towards making it happen.”

It sounded cheesy but then I thought about it. It was the perfect question to ask. Why wouldn’t you want a wildly successful outcome? Why wouldn’t you want a wildly successful outcome for everyone involved?

I had planned to interview Mike for an Inc. article and normally I would have said something like, “I’m looking for five or six tips readers can use to be more productive.”

Which would have been fine… but also would have been pretty bland. And would set the interview up to be pretty bland. I wouldn’t sound enthusiastic, I wouldn’t sound into it, and I definitely wouldn’t sound like I was excited to talk to Mike (which I was.)

What should I say? How about:

“I’d love to get five or six great tips that small business owners can use to really supercharge their day — not just to get more done but to feel great about themselves: to feel more efficient, more effective, more in charge. I’d love to get five or six favorite action steps that readers will immediately be excited to try… and I know you’re the perfect person to supply them.”

Bam! Now it’s not just any old phone call. Now it’s not just any other appointment to have and check off a calendar. I’m excited. He’s excited. And he’s flattered, as he should be. Now we have a real purpose. Now, together, we can try to do somethinggreat.

And with that kind of start, we most likely would.

You can do the same. To be truly engage other people, always start with that one question: What does a wildly successful outcome for this meeting, this project, this sales call, etc. look like?

And to be more successful in your own right, always start with that one question: what can I do so I won’t just be successful… but be incredibly, amazingly, wildly successful?

Don’t start anything until you know the answer. Then be smart and create routines and processes based on that answer… because that’s the best way to ensure you succeed.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

To keep up with Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Author: Jeff Haden is a Contributing Editor for Inc. Magazine.

Image: A woman stands in her office in front of a window. REUTERS.