What’s the Question, Again? Is That the Right Question?

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Dominic over at idfuel has written a great article about the importance of knowing and keeping in mind what’s the question/ problem/ issue you’re trying to solve, before you start doing any work. We are so inclined to become enamoured with our answers/ solutions/ ideas, that sometimes we lose sight of the Question. This has so many applications to the work we need to do now, personally and collectively:

  1. In the search for the sweet spot at the intersection of our Gift (what we’re uniquely good at), our Passion (what we love doing) and our Purpose (what is needed), it is so tempting to blur each of these into the next — becoming so determined to provide what is needed (“we could do that!”) that we forget that we hate doing that, or we’re really not all that good at it. We become uncentred. It’s very human, but it’s not getting at the Question — which is What is at the Intersection?
  2. In business design and traditional problem-solving, we often find ourselves so intrigued with a design or a concept that the Question — the unmet need that the product or service was initially designed to meet, gets compromised or even forgotten. Groupthink sets in, people get caught up in ‘pride of ownership’ of something shiny that a lot of people have said good things about, and all of a sudden the Question is forgotten — and the response of the group to anyone daring to force them back to it can be downright hostile. The focus becomes the product instead of the use — the 1/4″ drill instead of the 1/4″ hole, the new curriculum instead of the need to rekindle lost critical and creative thinking skills. The Question — What is the Job to Be Done and What is the Community that Needs it? — gets forgotten.
  3. In Open Space and other complex, collaborative problem-‘solving’ methodologies, a different kind of dysfunction can arise when a particularly articulate individual ‘wows’ the group, sometimes actually distracting them from the issue — the Question — they got together to address. So instead of being collectively passionate about a need or challenge, they end up collectively passionate about an idea or an articulation, or worse, a person.
  4. In private thinking work, going off on tangents can be an effective lateral thinking technique, or it can also lead us down the garden path. One of my readers, Indigo Ocean, in her book Being Bliss, describes a beginning meditation technique that appears on the surface terribly selfish — asking yourself, once an hour, on the hour, What do I Want Right Now? and thinking about that — What do you want to get, to accomplish, to become — and then imagining it having already occurred, as a way of focusing yourself. How can we hope to be happy when we spend so much of our time thinking about things that, in the long run, aren’t important or actionable, and don’t matter? Focused on the wrong things, things that are ‘out of the Question’.

As important as staying focused on the Question is ensuring you’re focused on the right Question. Dominic describes a competition to design a mobile shelter and storage unit for the homeless. The solutions were ingenious, but almost none of the entrants tried to understand how or why the homeless use shopping carts and tents and sleeping bags now, or concerned themselves with the affordability of the solution. The real Question should have been How do we solve the problem of homelessness? Dominic concludes:

In the end, the hard work of thousands of talented designers generated quite a few exciting tents, but little in the way of novel solutions for the problem of homelessness. This is the ultimate price of asking the wrong question. At least solving the right problem poorly makes a step toward a workable solution. Solving the wrong problem well leavesthe right problem completely unsolved.
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One Response to What’s the Question, Again? Is That the Right Question?

  1. Candy Minx says:

    Another inspiring post, thank you. Of course I don’t think “homelessness” is a problem. I tend to think of people who live outside and often they love it. I see a man sleeping in Rosedale Valley all the time, he lives on the park bench all summer. I swear he is enjoying his space more than the people who own houses in that hood do. I see some kind of a lesson there, although I don’t have the words for it. Yes, finding a purpose (the demand to be met) is a very important aspect of working in ones passion. Just a quick hello Dave. A blogger friend of mine says India has banned blogging. All he can do is read the comments people make on his blog through his e-mail. there are some web sites now offering ways to get through the bannin…but I am on a mission tonight to visit and comment on as many blogs a sI can until my fingers get sore in honor of Indian and Pakstani bloggers.

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