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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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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

Most discussions on positively influencing others eventually touch on Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written more than 83 years ago, the book touches on a core component of human interaction, building strong relationships. It is no wonder why.

Everything that we do hinges on our ability to connect with others and formulate deep relationships. You cannot sell a house, buy a house, advance in most careers, sell a product, pitch a story, teach a course, etc. without building healthy relationships. Managers get the best results from their teams, not through brute force, but to careful appeals to their sensibilities, occasional withdrawals from the reservoir of respect they’ve built. Using these tactics, they can influence others to excellence, to productivity, and to success.

Carnegie’s book is great. Of course, there are other resources too. Most of us have someone in our lives who positively influences us. The truth is positively influencing people is about centering the humanity of others. Chances are, you know someone who is really good at making others feel like stars. They can get you to do things that the average person cannot. Where the requests of others sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, the request from this special person sounds like music to your ears. You’re delighted to not only listen but also to oblige.

So how to influence people in a positive way? Read on for tips.

1. Be Authentic

To influence people in a positive way, be authentic. Rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s version of authenticity, uncover what it is that makes you unique.

Discover your unique take on an issue and then live up to and honor that. Once of the reasons social media influencers are so powerful is that they have carved out a niche for themselves or taken a common issue and approached it from a novel or uncommon way. People instinctually appreciate people whose public persona matches their private values.

Contradictions bother us because we crave stability. When someone professes to be one way, but lives contrary to that profession, it signals that they are confused or untrustworthy and thereby, inauthentic. Neither of these combinations bode well for positively influencing others.

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2. Listen

Growing up, my father would tell me to listen to what others said. He told me if I listened carefully, I would know all I needed to know about a person’s character, desires and needs.

To positively influence others, you must listen to what is spoken and what is left unsaid. Therein lies the explanation for what people need in order to feel validated, supported and seen. If a person feels they are invisible, and unseen by their superiors, they are less likely to be positively influenced by that person.

Listening meets a person’s primary need of validation and acceptance.

Take a look at this guide on how to be a better listener: How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

3. Become an Expert

Most people are predisposed to listen to, if not respect, authority. If you want to positively influence others, become an authority in the area in which you seek to lead others. Research and read everything you can about the given topic, and then look for opportunities to put your education into practice.

You can argue over opinions. You cannot argue, or it is unwise to argue, over facts and experts come with facts.

4. Lead with Story

From years of working in the public relations space, I know that personal narratives, testimonials and impact stories are incredibly powerful. But I never cease to be amazed with how effective a well-timed and told story can be.

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If you want to influence people, learn to tell stories. Your stories should be related to the issue or concept you are discussing. They should be an analogy or metaphor that explains your topic in ordinary terms and in vivid detail. To learn more about how to tell powerful stories, and the ethics of storytelling, take a look at this article: How To Tell An Interesting Story In 4 Simple Steps

5. Lead by Example

It is incredibly inspiring to watch passionate, talented people at work or play. One of the reasons a person who is not an athlete can be in awe of athletic prowess is because human nature appreciates the extraordinary. When we watch the Olympics, Olympic trials, gymnastic competitions, ice skating, and other competitive sports, we can recognize the effort of people who day in and day out give their all. C

ase in point: Simone Biles. The gymnast extraordinaire won her 6TH all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships after doing a triple double. She was the first woman to do so. Watching her gave me chills. Even non-gymnasts and non-competitive athletes can appreciate the talent required to pull off such a remarkable feat.

We celebrate remarkable accomplishments and believe that their example is proof that we too can accomplish something great, even if it isn’t qualifying for the Olympics. To influence people in a positive way, we must lead by example, lead with intention and execute with excellence.

6. Catch People Doing Good

A powerful way to influence people in a positive way is to catch people doing good. Instead of looking for problems, look for successes. Look for often overlooked, but critically important things that your peers, subordinates and managers do that make the work more effective and more enjoyable.

Once you catch people doing good, name and notice their contributions.

7. Be Effusive with Praise

It did not take me long to notice a remarkable trait of a former boss. He not only began and ended meetings with praise, but he peppered praise throughout the entire meeting. He found a way to celebrate the unique attributes and skills of his team members. He was able to quickly and accurately assess what people were doing well and then let them and their colleagues know.

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Meetings were not just an occasion to go through a “To Do” list, they were opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small they are.

8. Be Kind Rather Than Right

I am going to level with you; this one is tough. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proving oneself. For people who lack confidence, or people who prioritize the opinions of others, being right is important. The validation that comes with being perceived as “right” feeds one’s ego. But in the quest to be “right,” we can hurt other people. Once we’ve hurt someone by being unkind, it is much harder to get them to listen to what we’re trying to influence them to do.

The antidote to influencing others via bullying is to prioritize kindness above rightness. You can be kind and still stand firm in your position. For instance, many people think that they need others to validate their experience. If a person does not see the situation you experienced in the way you see it, you get upset. But your experience is your experience.

If you and your friends go out to eat and you get food poisoning, you do not need your friends to agree that the food served at the restaurant was problematic for you. Your own experience of getting food poisoning is all the validation you need. Therefore, taking time to be right is essentially wasted and, if you were unkind in seeking validation for your food-poison experience, now you’ve really lost points.

9. Understand a Person’s Logical, Emotional and Cooperative Needs

The Center for Creative Leadership has argued that the best way to influence others is to appeal to their logical, emotional and cooperative needs. Their logical need is their rational and educational need. Their emotional need is the information that touches them in a deeply personal manner. The cooperative need is understanding the level of cooperation various individuals need and then appropriately offering it.

The trick with this system is to understand that different people need different things. For some people, a strong emotional appeal will outweigh logical explanations. For others, having an opportunity to collaborate will override emotional connection.

If you know your audience, you will know what they need in order to be positively influenced. If you have limited information about the people whom you are attempting to influence, you will be ineffective.

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10. Understand Your Lane

If you want to positively influence others, operate from your sphere of influence. Operate from your place of expertise. Leave everything else to others. Gone are the days when being a jack of all trades is celebrated.

Most people appreciate brands that understand their target audience and then deliver on what that audience wants. When you focus on what you are uniquely gifted and qualified to do, and then offer that gift to the people who need it, you are likely more effective. This effectiveness is attractive.

You cannot positively influence others if you are more preoccupied by what others do well versus what you do well.

Final Thoughts

Influencing people is about centering your humanity. If you want to influence others positively, focus on the way you communicate and improve the relationship with yourself first.

It’s hard to influence others if you’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with yourself.

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Featured photo credit: Wonderlane via unsplash.com

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