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Weekly 3: Ask better questions

Summary: Improve the quality of your questions. Better understand yourself and your motivations. Avoi

Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 9 · Issue #64 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Improve the quality of your questions. Better understand yourself and your motivations. Avoid unnecessary work. (~5 min read)
Note: Idea #2 is taken from a previous issue, and we’ve included it here because it fits well with the current theme: asking better questions.

#1. Better questions equal better answers
In The Book of Beautiful Questions, author and “questionologist” Warren Berger recommends the following 6 tips for building a better question:
1. Open it up
Rather than asking a closed question that yields only a “yes” or “no” answer, open it up by starting with words like What or How.
  • Instead of: Have things changed since last year?
  • Ask: How have things changed since last year?
2. Close it down
There are, however, times when you do want a more narrow answer to your question. This can help you identify a faulty assumption, and also save you from needless wondering.
  • Instead of: Why are we having this problem?
  • Ask: Is it a problem?
3. Sharpen it
Precise questions tend to result in better answers.
  • Instead of: How will current changes in the market affect us?
  • Ask: How will the rise of e-commerce in the market affect us?
4. Add Why
You often want to identify the root cause, or the “question behind the question.” To do this, add Why to the end of your original question.
  • Instead of: What trend are you most concerned about?
  • Ask: What trend are you most concerned about—and why?
5. Soften it
Questions can be confrontational. Putting a “softening phrase” at the beginning can indicate that the question is based on genuine interest, not criticism.
  • Instead of: Why are you doing it that way?
  • Ask: I’m curious to know: why are you taking that approach?
6. Neutralize it
Make sure your question doesn’t have an agenda, and simply lead someone to the answer you want. Leading questions might work for interrogators and prosecutors, but Berger suggests that you avoid them.
  • Instead of: Wasn’t that movie awful?
  • Ask: What did you think of that movie?
#2. Identify your deepest and most sustainable motivations by pressing your "emotional hot buttons"
Author and sales coach Steve Siebold writes in his book 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class that while most people are motivated by extrinsic factors like money and material possessions, world-class performers are motivated intrinsically – by their desires, dreams, and passions. 
Siebold argues that the problem with external motivation is that it’s short-lived. Motivational pep talks may be fun and temporarily motivating, “yet lack the real fire emotional motivators generate.”
Great leaders and coaches know that the secret to motivating themselves and others is to move from logic-based motivators to ones that are emotion-based.
Siebold recommends asking yourself the following 5 questions to uncover your emotional hot buttons:
  1. What are you willing to fight for?
  2. What values do you hold dearest to your heart?
  3. What values would you be willing to die for?
  4. If you could achieve a single thing, what would make all your hard work worth the struggle?
  5. If you had 30 seconds left to live, what would you tell your children are the 3 most important things you learned about how to live a happy life?
#3. More isn’t always better
Authors and entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in their book It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work that when you’re considering an update to your product or service, it can help to ask, What if you did nothing?
As they point out, it’s easier to make something worse than it is to genuinely improve it: “But we commonly delude ourselves into thinking that more time, more investment, more attention is always going to win.”
Fried and Heinemeier Hansson tell the story of how they successfully applied the do-nothing approach to a planned revamp of how customers use their software product Basecamp.
The plan was to replace the old way of using Basecamp with a new way, which would involve migrating data, converting formats, and a totally different user experience.
But for customers who like the old way, or simply value their familiarity with it, taking that away “is a violent act, not a gentle one.”
So halfway through the project they asked themselves, What if we did nothing?
And that’s what they did – nothing. No forced migration, no requirement to learn something new, and no hard claims about how “this is actually better.”
The new way of using Basecamp would only be for new customers, and existing customers could continue using the old way (or opt into the new one if they preferred).
In the end, doing nothing was the best option: customers were happier, it narrowed the scope of the project, reduced the amount of work required to complete it, and shaved weeks off the deadline.
Sometimes, doing nothing can be the hardest choice but also the best one. It’s important to recognize that in some cases “time in doesn’t equal benefits out.”
Quote of the Week
“Our lives are living out answers to questions we don’t notice that we’re asking. Asking different questions helps us lead different lives.”
- Author and developmental coach Jennifer Garvey Berger in an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast
Idea Journal
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