What!? How … ? But Why!? Seven Ways to Ask Better Questions
A while a go I was trying to form a research question. That odd process where scientific results are supposed to suddenly appear when you ask the right question. More often than not you find an interesting answer and try to figure out the corresponding question like a lame, dinner time game show. I realised, however, that the way I asked the question pointed me in a certain direction. Asking a question starting with ‘How …’ unfolded a mechanism, a way things worked. ‘How did the Second World War start?’ will give you a description of how one event unfolded into another. Compare that with ‘Why did the Second World War start?’ or ‘What was the start of the Second World War?’ and you’ll begin to see the difference. You’ll get a motivation, or a specification depending on what you ask. With the risk of stating the obvious, but the way you ask a question highly influences the answer you’ll get. So here are seven ways to ask better questions.
1. Ask Them
If you want to use of the power of questions you’ll have to ask them. As 37Signals founder Jason Fried paraphrased Clayton Christensen: ”Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go.” To see the answers around you, you’ll have to ask questions all the time. Not necessarily to other people, but also to yourself. Meaningful questions that is. It’s not enough to keep the conversation polite and pleasant, you need a little friction to get somewhere meaningful. That can be confrontational, for yourself as well as your subject.
Story Asymmetry: 4 Ways You’re Missing Out on Customer Experience
“A very good morning ladies and gentlemen. I’m happy to announce that we have safely reached our destination, The Hague. All that’s left for me to do is to wish you all a fulfilling and productive day! From here on, you’re on your own.”
Everyone around me on the train had a grin on their face when they heard this announcement from the train driver at eight in the morning. The grin was sheepish, yes, but they noticed it. Even if only a little, it changed their day for the better. And this was just from the people I could see in my compartment, multiply that by twenty and you get an idea of the power a train driver has every morning. This is the asymmetry of the story. The train driver might feel he is repeating himself over and over, but everyday has a new morning. We’re all experts in picking up emotions and tone of voice in other people’s speech, so we notice his disdain and uninterestedness and let it affect us. It might also be the first time we hear the announcement. It might be the first time on a train ever.
Years ago I worked in an Apple store. It was around the time the first iPhone came out. We didn’t have any in stock yet, but people came by the dozen everyday to ask whether we had. At some point one of my colleagues said: “Why do they keep asking about that iPhone? I’ve told them a million times we don’t have it yet. Wouldn’t they know it by now?” Of course, the outside world is not one all-knowing organism. For every customer coming in to the store it’s a new story. For you it’s an old story. That means you’ll often be repeating yourself, but it also means you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to surprise your customer. So here are four things you need to keep in mind.
Leverage: The decision you make may be small, even it’s impact for an individual may be small, but it can influence lots and lots of people.
Feedback: Your feedback-loop may be removed from the the actual customer experience, so you’ll never see how your decision influences the experience a customer has. If you use and experience your own product or service, you’ll see how it works for you. But you also need to learn how others use and experience your service and whether it’s broken for them.
Responsibility: Who is responsible for customer interaction? The person who sets up the process and service? Or the cleaner who notices where things go wrong? What is the job you’re paying people to do? Who do they report to?
Everything is a service: you can no longer get away by saying that you’re responsible for your product until it leaves the factory. Everything that takes place afterwards is associated with your product. The way it is displayed in the store, the online reviews, the way it is used in combination with other products. Your always selling a service, not just a product.
Story asymmetry is often a cause for a brokeninteraction, but most of the time no one in the process realises its impact. The store clerk who sticks the price tag over a product description probably fails to understand this causes some people to walk out of the store. The mumbling train driver making an incomprehensible announcement at the stop for the airport, fails to see the tourist who will miss his flight. At the same time these are the people that have leverage. This is where one person can make a small (positive) impact on many lives. All you need though, is to realise you can make that impact.
There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess, because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, or even to have found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.
We are in this mess today because our post-scarcity world economy cannot produce sufficient effective demand required to keep everybody employed. From 1938 to 1945, war created that demand. From 1945 to 1973, prosperity, rising wages, and advertising created that demand. From 1982 to 2007, debt fuelled consumption financed by ever rising asset prices created that demand.
— Tom Streihorst on why we are solving the wrong problems the wrong way and why creating meaningful demand is important, not austerity.
Talking about talking, thinking about thinking, thinking about talking, tasting taste, and talking about thinking about taste. The philosophy of Wine. The always eloquent Steven Shapin on The Tastes of Wine: Towards a Cultural History (by CRASSH Cambridge)
In order to manage risk, you must scare people, because you must alert them to the reality of the risk that they face … but if you scare them and action is taken to minimize the risk and reduce its potential impact such that nothing happens over a certain period, people will say,’Why were you scaring us in the first place?’
— Tony Giddens, in Robert Goodin’s What’s Wrong With Terrorism (2006).
Safety First: Putting the NSA surveillance tactics into perspective
The recent events concerning the NSA spying on the rest of the world has made my research into freedom and security all the more relevant. Let’s try and put things into perspective. For the last month or so I’ve been looking into the changed world of freedom and security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the recent events show just how much that world has changed. The question that has been on our minds since 2001, but now more than ever, is whether we are willing to accept increased security measures even when that comes at the cost of giving up rights and liberties.
To search your home for these types of personal records, the government would have to have a warrant based on probable cause of wrongdoing, but to obtain them from your doctor or others you do business with, such as your internet service provider or your employer, no such probable cause is required under the statute since 2001
Statement of Lisa Graves, Executive Director Center for Media and Democracy, Before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee September 23, 2009.
The home has long been sacred, and as a physical place it still is, but more and more our home is no longer based on a physical location alone. Our identity is no longer formed by the wallpaper in our kitchen, but by the design of our Tumblr. Our identity has come to exist as the expression of many third-party records, not the books on our shelves. When the home turns virtual, when we meet our friends online, it is easy for government to claim that our privacy at home is sacred, while our virtual home is under constant surveillance.