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Weekly 3: Questioning Skills, 10 Ideas/Day & 5 Whys

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Summary: Asking good questions is a skill. Exercise your "idea muscle" to be more creative. Use 5 Why
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

November 19 · Issue #9 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Asking good questions is a skill. Exercise your “idea muscle” to be more creative. Use 5 Whys to solve problems. (~4 min read)

#1. If the "art and science of asking questions" is our most important intellectual tool, why isn't it a core subject taught in schools?
In his book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, author and media critic Neil Postman writes that “all the knowledge we have is a result of asking questions.”
Yet, for all the emphasis on “critical thinking” in schools, question-asking isn’t treated as a separate skill to develop. Why not? 
Postman writes that the following two reasons are typically offered as answers: 
  • That it’s hard to create tests to accurately measure competence in how to ask effective questions, and
  • That teachers themselves didn’t study question-asking in school
Not satisfied, Postman suggests his own explanation: school is considered to be a place for students to learn answers, not the questions that evoke them. 
Despite what could be the benefits of formally training students in question-asking, teachers and school administrators may sense that doing so would be “politically explosive”: 
  • For the student studying history, instead of taking the teacher’s or the textbook’s word for it, they might ask “Whose history is this?”
  • Or when presented with a set of facts, a skeptical student might ask the following questions: “What is a fact?” “How is it different from an opinion?” “And who is the judge?” 
#2. To be more creative (and potentially change your life), exercise your "idea muscle."
Author and yoga instructor Claudia Altucher, writing in her book Become an Idea Machine, recommends a simple exercise to become more creative: write down 10 ideas every day. 
Just as you get stronger as you lift more weights over time, she suggests that after coming up with 10 ideas per day for 6 months, you’ll develop the “gift of trained spontaneity.”
The point of the exercise isn’t necessarily to develop a patent for the next world-changing technology. Instead, it’s to exercise your idea muscle and “make your brain sweat.”
As such, she writes that it’s OK even if the ideas are bad, and includes 180 prompts in the book to help you get started. Here are a few examples: 
  • 10 titles of books that you could write
  • 10 ways that you could help a friend 
  • 10 words that you can erase from your vocabulary
Altucher credits this exercise with giving her the confidence and creativity to transform her own life: from becoming a bestselling author, to creating The Yoga Podcast, as well as writing Become an Idea Machine, which she completed in 6 weeks. 
#3. To find the root cause of a problem, ask "Why?" five times.
Taiichi Ohno, former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation, saw every problem as an opportunity for continuous improvement in disguise.
Ohno, pioneer of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s, believed that “the root cause of any problem is the key to a lasting solution,” and advised his colleagues to ask “Why?” five times whenever they faced a problem.
Toyota reflects on his contributions to the company by referencing the following example of how this technique can be applied to the problem of a welding robot stopping in the middle of production: 
  1. “Why did the robot stop?” The circuit was overloaded.
  2. “Why is the circuit overloaded?” There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
  3. “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?” The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
  4. “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?” The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
  5. “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?” Because there is no filter on the pump.
Since its adoption at Toyota, the 5 Whys approach has been used in a variety of contexts, from building startups to scheduling family dinners
Quote of the Week
“Judge a man by his questions, rather than by his answers”
- French Politician Pierre Marc Gaston de Levis, Duke of Levis in his 1808 Maxims and Reflections on Different Subjects
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