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Last Updated on January 30, 2018

One Great Question is Worth More Than a Hundred Answers

One Great Question is Worth More Than a Hundred Answers

A great question can change the world. Questions like the one Einstein asked himself, “What would you see if you were traveling on a beam of light?” In The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, Kevin Kelly writes, “Questioning is more powerful than answering.” He discusses how the technologies that generate questions will be more valued in the future than the technologies that generate answers. He comments,

“At the end of the day, a world of super smart ubiquitous answers encourage a quest for the perfect question. What makes a perfect question? Ironically, the best questions are not questions that lead to answers, because answers are on their way to becoming cheap and plentiful. A good question is worth a million good answers.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Kelly. So, what makes a great question? Let’s look at a list from Kelly.

Good questions are not concerned with a correct answer

For each discussion, I created metaphors to further our understanding of what makes a good question.

Metaphor: Answers are buried deep within our mind. While we might not find the right answer we are looking for, we will find better questions the deeper we dig.

Metaphor: Our mind is like a large building with a long winding corridor, where the corridor is like a series of questions within our mind. Each room along the corridor serves as a gap between our thoughts and questions. Where each room possesses either an answer or another question.

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A good question cannot be answered immediately

“Over time, the cloud, the machine, or AI will learn to articulate what is known and not known. While the answer machine can expand answers infinitely, our time to form the next question is very limited.” – Kevin Kelly

Metaphor: Unknown answers are like trees planted in our mind, where ideas are the branches and questions are the seeds of growth. The better the seed, the increased likelihood of ideas branching off one another.

Metaphor: Just as trees require time for growth, so do great questions. Yet, you must first plant the seed.

A good question challenges existing answers

Metaphor: A great question is like a rock, where existing answers are like a glass window. Innovation and new answers emerge by shattering the glass window with a rock.

Metaphor: An existing answer is like religion, where a great question is challenging the existing answer. We must challenge our current view of religion in order to seek an undivided answer.

A good question is one you badly want answered after you hear it, yet previously did not care

Metaphor: A great question is like following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole, where the question is the hole itself. You had no previous awareness of the existence of the hole, yet the further you fall, the greater your desire for an answer.

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Metaphor: Imagine seeing a door all your life, yet you have never opened the door because it lacked a door knob. A great question is like a door knob appearing out of thin air. By opening the door, you are made aware of an entirely new reality. You notice yet another door as you walk through it. However, it also lacks a door knob.

A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario

Metaphor: Life is like space, where we do not know exactly what is out there. Probing what-if questions are like a shuttle that carries us further into the unknown.

Metaphor: A great question is like an ocean. An ocean has a deepest part. Therefore, a question has a deepest part.

A good question is one that generates many other good questions

Metaphor: A great question is like a library full of books, where each book leads to even more great questions.

Metaphor: A great question is like the number Pi. Where Pi cannot be expressed as a common fraction (or an answer). Just as the digits of Pi can go on and on with no pattern, questions can generate a never-ending series of new questions.

A good question cannot be predicted

Metaphor: We cannot predict great questions. Just as Google cannot predict exactly what you will be doing, thinking, and feeling twenty years from now.

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Metaphor: Just as we cannot predict our next thought by asking what our next thought will be – we cannot predict great questions. If we could, they would be an answer, not a question.

A good question will be the sign of an educated mind

Metaphor: A fish swimming in clear water is like the mind of a child, where the clear water is like great questions uncluttered by answers. The mind of a child is like an educated mind.

Metaphor: A fish swimming in dirty water is like the mind of an adult, where the dirty water is like previous answers preventing questions from being asked. The adult mind is like an uneducated mind – a mind with the perception that it has all the answers.

A good question reframes its own answers

Metaphor: A great question is like the birth of a child. The birth does not reveal an answer, yet it does reveal something better… more fascinating questions.

Metaphor: A great question is like the pause between musical notes.

A good question might be the last job a machine will learn to do

“A good question is what humans are for.” – Kevin Kelly

Instead of using a metaphor here, let’s discuss a book by Douglas Adams called The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. To prevent massive spoilers, I will only use an example from Adams first book in the series.

In the book, the number 42 is revealed to be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything calculated by a gigantic supercomputer named Deep Thought. The answer was generated over a period of 7.5 million years to compute and check the answer. The computer responded that the answer seemed meaningless because the beings who instructed it never knew what the question was. The same beings then asked Deep Thought to produce the ultimate question, for which the supercomputer said it could not. However, Deep Thought said it would help design an even more powerful computer that can.

Finally, let me leave you with one last question. This is my great question and it fascinates me.

“What would you see if you could shine a light on the gap between your thoughts?” – Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Featured photo credit: unsplash via unsplash.com

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Dr. Jamie Schwandt

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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