Open the box and ASK
You got fired or you just finished school, maybe you are bored to pieces of your current situation and want to boost you career or perhaps you only have a nagging feeling that there could be more to life. Where do you start? This book is not intended as a self-help book, even though it might fit the bill. The goal is for me to collect my thoughts and try to structure them and make sense of all the crap I have filled my brain with the last couple of years. If it does help you, that is great. If there are things that you question about my thoughts, you are more than welcome to contact me and ask. Ask, because that is where everything starts.
If you do not ask, you will stay in the past when the world moves on. Being curious, asking questions like "What if?" and "Why..." are keys that open doors that hide new knowledge that can bring new light into your world. This book is an exploration into the wonderful world of questions.
ASK YOUR SELF
Everything starts with you, every question that pops up in your head, every struggle you have every choice you make hide information about who you are and how you think. When was the last time you asked your self why you made a specific choice? How often do you listen to the questions in your mind and actually try to find an answer, or a list of answers? Because one of the most important things to know about questions is that almost none of them have only one answer. Next time you have a question in your head, that is important enough to you to pursue take the time to find at least ten different answers to that question. Even a simple question as "what is 1 + 1" can be explained in many ways. You can explain the answers with your fingers, refer to balls or apples to create a picture about the answer, you might just say "two" and be happy with that. The answer you get leak information about the person you are talking with and often that is the key to understand how to continue the conversation. The answer "two" tell you that the person know the concept of numbers and believe that you do to. If the person starts to explain the concept with apples or fingers, they do not believe you have a clear concept of numbers. In order to get a good answer you need to understand if the person you are talking to understand the answer well enough to explain it to you and not explain the fundamentals when you are looking for a quick response.
Often you do have an answer to most of the questions you ask yourself, and often you are happy with that answer, but until you start to seek new answer that you can compare with your own or that reviles new perspectives on the question you will not find the way out of the box you are currently locked inside.
Now that you know that even the smallest question can open new doors I do recommend you to buy a notebook and every time a question pop up in your head, pick a new page and write the question in the top of the page and leave the rest of the page for the answers you find as you explore the angles of the question. The rest of the book will help you get ideas of who to ask and what to look for but before you continue you should write down the first answer that pops up in your head, as a reference that you can compare your findings with.
Picking a question to pursue is like picking a puzzle to solve. So, I will keep the jigsaw puzzle metaphor throughout this text, to try to make my message clearer.
Are you ready to explore?
Before we begin asking everyone, high and low. It is a good idea to understand the inner working of questions and how to use them effectively. In this chapter we will take a look at what types of questions there are and when to use them. How to get great answers and to use those answers to formulate new questions.
- Finding the right questions
Asking questions is an exploration process and the questions vary depending on where in the process you are. This is also referred to design thinking or simply a design process. First you want to understand the situation you are in by asking why things are as they are and what things put you in the position you are today. Then you want to widen your exploration by understanding what would happen if you could change or remove any of the obstacles. Then you move on and ask how it would be possible to incorporate the changes you want to see. And finally, before you act you also want to ask what effects this change will have on the rest of your environment. If you want money and decide to steal some, you have not considered the consequences of that decision carefully enough.
- There are no bad questions
Remember that there are no bad questions. If there are answers you do not have, regardless of how simple they are, you must ask the question in order to get the answer. If you ask an expert in the field who can give you a good answer without thinking it is still a valid question. Because you needed the answer. The only bad question is the question not asked.
- Question in many ways
How many ways can you ask the same question, and why does that matter? Depending who you are asking you might want to formulate the question differently. Depending on what answer you are looking for, the question you ask matters a lot, as we investigate in the next section. A question can be direct when you want a clear answer or indirect if you want some more elaborate answer. You can use a question to request some action "Can you clean your room?" or to verify if a some action is required of you "Should I help you clean your room?", you can explore the reasons behind an outcome "Why have you not cleaned your room yet?" or ask for a commitment "When will clean your room?". Depending on how you ask, you will get different answers and you will evoke different feelings in the person you are asking. This is important to consider in order to get the answer you are looking for.
- Open vs leading questions
When you have an idea on where you want to go, it is easy to change your questions so that you get a specific response. "Do you want the red or the blue pill" apart from "Do you want a pill, we have red and blue ones". The leading question try to force you to make a decision. Leaving you without the option of just saying no. Parents are often taught to ask kids these kinds of questions to make it easier for them to make the "right" decision. "Do you want to start by putting on your pyjamas or brush your teeth?". But it could also be a way of putting words in your mouth, like "Did you clean your room today?" instead of "What have you been doing today?". The prior expects a certain type of answer, the latter give room for a more elaborate answer.
- 5 times why
Why questions are good. But if you only ask why once, you will only scratch the surface. The answer you get is often just the reason that comes to mind first. Why do you eat? "Because I'm hungry" or "Because it tastes good" are two reasonable answers. If you ask why are you hungry it might be "Because you have not eaten in a while" or "Because your body need nutrition" and if you ask why it tastes good it might be "Because the sauce is delicious" or "Because you have cravings for potatoes". Every following question brings you closer to the root cause. All of these questions might eventually bring you to an answer that you lack a particular substance in your body or that you have a sweet tooth and perhaps should try to think before you put things in your mouth next time. What I want to get at here is that it is seldom the first answer that is the correct one.
- MOM test
Often used by entrepreneurs to question prospective customers without directly asking about the product. The point of this is that the customer already has a solution and if they say yes, I like your product. They might not buy anyway, for some reason and if they say no, I do not like that, they might actually be interested when they understand the actual benefits. What the MOM-test does is question the way the customer currently solve their problem, without revealing the new solution and instead asking questions that will reveal if the solution is better or worse than the current solution and at what cost it would be relevant to switch. For instance if I want to figure out if an electric bike is a good idea, then I might ask a prospective buyer how they travel to work, why they choose the way they travel, how much money they spend on travel and what options they have considered. If I reveal that I'm talking about an electric bike, the frame of the prospective will change and they will include their bias about electric bikes into their answer and that will prevent you from getting the real valuable answer you are looking for.
ASK YOUR FAMILY
Now why do I expect my family to have the answers? They are mainly in the same box as I am and my question might be related to work, that they have no real understanding of. Remember, we are not looking for the answer as much as we are looking for angles that can reveal a better answer than the one, we already came up with. And kids are really good at finding weird angles. The less they understand the motive behind the question the more creative the answer. Creative unexpected answers are the best tools to jump start your exploration process. Take notes and if the answers help you formulate some new interesting questions write them down as well on pages of their own.
As your family members probably do not have all the background information and knowhow, you should not trust the answers as truths. But it is a valuable exercise to formulate the question and exercise asking it. And the inspiration you get to reframe your question will be valuable ahead.
Now you have picked the corners and placed them on the table, you still do not know how large this puzzle is going to be and to do that you want to find the side pieces.
ASK YOUR FRIENDS
Your friends know you well, sometimes even better than you know yourself. They will give you feedback on why you are asking this question. But in many cases, they will try to prevent you from investigating further and instead go out and have a beer with them. Lovely as that sounds, this is not why we are here today. Exploring why you are pursuing a specific question is very good because that why will be the guiding star ahead. As Simon Sinek says in his book “Start with why”. If you can figure out the core of why this question is important to you, nothing can stop you finding the answer. Because the question will be your purpose of living, the thing that make you get out of bed in the morning. Like that jigsaw puzzle on the table you cannot walk by without at least putting a couple of pieces in the right place to get a little bit closer to the final picture, your answer.
Friends are also good because they are the first step into a wider network of people that work with unrelated things compared to what you are working with. They can refer you to people that may have more of an answer or can give you some new important angles to explore.
After asking your friends you will get a pretty good picture of the size of the puzzle, you now have the frame and a clear idea on what should go inside the frame and what should stay outside.
ASK YOUR NETWORK
Now it is time to get serious. You understand your question, you know what you are looking for and you know why you are searching for the answer. Now it is time to ask people who work with this question on a regular basis. People who know some pieces of the answers you need, to move ahead. Maybe you will even get some help or valuable feedback on how to move forward. These experts are perhaps people you work with, but they might also be the connections your friends referred you to.
In this group you might start to meet people that share your why. But they are working on it from different angles. You might want to end hunger by helping farmers financing investments in better tools while someone else work on improving the quality of seeds. In some cases, there is a great opportunity to cooperate in other cases they will be a good contact to have that can keep track on advances in related areas, that can be valuable to keep track on in the future.
We have the frame of the puzzle and now we are looking for some interesting objects inside of the frame that we can start to build around. You find groups of pieces that look similar and you put them together and try to place them somewhere near the place they should go inside the frame.
You have gone far and probably have gotten many great answers that give a better picture. You have collected the frame and most of the objects within the frame of the puzzle, but they are still not connected. Now it is time to find strangers that have some of the missing pieces. One way to find these pieces is to talk to strangers you meet, but today we have a great tool that give you access to people all around the world. It is called the Internet. You can post questions in forums, you can buy adds that you target to people that might have pieces of the answer that you are looking for or you can produce content as blog, podcasts or videos where you ask your question, in the hope for someone to get by and leaving you more information.
ASK THE DATA
Now the only pieces left is the ones that all look the same, like the sky. The way to put these pieces into please you must look at each one and see if it fits any of the locations you have left. This is time consuming work. Luckily, we have computers that can make huge amounts of calculations in no time. Try to get all the data you can get your hands on that are related to your question and build a system that crunch those numbers until the picture is clear as glass.
Now the puzzle is complete, and you can see the entire picture. But we live in an ever-changing world. So, when you have the puzzle complete it is time to enjoy what you got and understand how it will change for the future.
WHAT IS YOUR QUESTION?
Now it is up to you, what question will you bring to the table and do you have the grit to collect all the pieces?