What About a Book of Questions?

By August 9, 2016reinvention

I don’t have any answers for you. Only experts purport to have answers for other people. And expertise makes sense in limited, technical domains. But ask anybody who applies a complicated set of tools or skills for a client what the hardest part is? They will never say that using the tools and skills are hard. The hard part for an expert cabinet-maker is helping the client figure out what they really want in a set of cabinets. The hard part for an expert developer is nailing down the software requirements. The hard part for a Realtor… yeah, you get it.

One of the few things I know for sure is that no one is more of an expert in your life than you are. Nobody else has that kind of time to devote to your existence. You think someone else is going to be better at discovering what will make you happy than you are? Not a chance. The hard work of disciplining your own ego and finding a way to be happy in this uncertain world can only be done by you.

So my idea for today is, what about a list of questions, hard questions, that, if someone took the time to answer, would help them really figure out what they believed, what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it? What would that list be like? Would it be different for everyone or could it be universal? I suspect that the questions are universal, and the answers are what makes us individuals.

There is already a Book of Questions but those questions are interesting,but not the kind that I find particularly helpful.

If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about any one thing about yourself, life or the future, or anything else, what would you want to know and why?

If a country hit the U.S. with a nuclear bomb, would you favor unleashing our nuclear arsenal upon them?

Do you think the world will be a better or worse place 100 years from now. Do you see our present world as a better place than the world of a century ago? How so?

Of the three I picked from a quick skim, the last one is the most interesting to me. Because, presumably, how you answer it has some bearing on what you are going to do when you are done answering the question. Because that’s what I’m after. Questions to help me (or anyone) get more engaged in life and get more out of themselves.

But whatever the questions, I think a questioned-focused method of education is very, very sane.

I once went to hear Richard Saul Wurman speak. If you don’t know his work, you should, he is a brilliant man. One of the least impressive things he’s done is start the TED conference. In the middle of his fascinating talk he said this about education.

Look at a classroom. Teacher at the front asks questions. Students sit in neat rows and answer. It’s totally backwards. The one who ASKS the questions gets the EDUCATION.

I realize this that this idea edges over into self-help. But I think it’s on solid, stoic footing. First, because it’s not at all about self-esteem. But second because I believe we are, all of us, basically the ideas we have. So, to sharpen your idea of yourself is to sharpen yourself.

Look at it this way. If you don’t do something because you are afraid of it. Before you can do it, you first have to change your idea of the thing or the fear it causes.

Which leads to one of the more interesting questions I have come up with. What is your strategy for dealing with fear?

But that’s another post.


Author Patrick

I help organizations figure out what they stand for and how to communicate what they believe. I also write fiction.

More posts by Patrick
  • Ian Seekell

    Is the foundation of this post the questions that you ask clients to “get to why”?

    It’s funny, to me, but as a software product manager my job is to get past “what” they want to do and arrive at “why” do you want to do it? (Often by starting with “how” they think it needs to be done.) To do this, I’m supposed to ask lots of questions. What I find funny is that the best thing to do it to shut up and listen (better, observe).

    Perhaps the art is in asking just enough questions to get them started, but no more. Then sit back and take really good notes.

    • PatrickEMcLean

      Well, that’s a huge part of it. And one of the things I’m doing is holding my own feet to the fire about why.

      There is a lot of genius in “just enough to get them started” Took me a while to realize that my job wasn’t to have the answer. it was to uncover the answer (like an Archeologist) by getting them to talk. Then (like a diamond cutter) using my skill to help them to shape the answer into something beautiful.

  • Tj Geezer

    Good blog entry; it got me to thinking, an activity I frequently avoid because in my 70s, I prefer simply being, watching, noticing details during short walks such as the hummingbirds squabbling over territory or the “best” flower on a tree… An old man’s response, no doubt.

    But Ian Seekell’s comment, like your blog entry, makes me think the best approach to any sort of creative problem may be simply not to overthink it. I made a fair living for years writing anything from technical books to magazine stories, research grant proposals to corporate P&P manuals (a soul-killer, that last). My son makes a decent living now writing freelance material, chiefly fiction under a variety of bylines for Internet publishers. Different generations, different tools, even completely different writing projects.

    What we both discovered is that starting with too detailed an outline or proposal guide or whatever kills both flexibility and spontaneity. You can never get into “the flow,” a heightened state where words and sentences seem to flow of their own accord and the writer’s main job is to keep it from going off the rails. In my own work, I found that the more detail I started with, the less fun I had with the job. Too much detail is deadening.

    My son says that when he writes commissioned fiction, he only wants to know the situation, the main thrust (action, adventure, romance, SF, whatever) and whether it will be standalone or a series, plus basics like intended audience, level of tolerable “language,” what to avoid (such as porn, extreme violence, whatever). Too much more than that, and he never likes the result or enjoys the writing.

    That fits what Ian Seekell says about software engineering. Ask a few questions, digest the answers, and then sit back and listen, whether to your muse or your project requester. Or both.

    • PatrickEMcLean

      I agree about not overthinking it. The mind is a terrible thing. The trouble is, I don’t have people I can ask about me. I have to ask me. And then shut up and listen to what I say. (You see the absurdity of the situation) This writing is my only solution.

      Also, I’m going to use that hummingbird story somewhere. Such a great metaphor for so many things. Or maybe a proverb, “Son, don’t ever waste time breaking up the hummingbird fights.” And, “It’s pretty much all hummingbird fights.”

    • Ian Seekell

      I really like your statement about listening to your own muse is as important as listening to others. Thanks for the reminder!

      • PatrickEMcLean

        Now that I think about it, it’s kind of Shakespearean. I’m going to oversimplify, but characters in Shakespeare change because they listen to themselves speaking. (or they get killed 🙂 Here’s Hamlet deciding not to commit suicide because he talks himself out of it. http://www.monologuearchive.com/s/shakespeare_001.html

        • Tj Geezer

          Trust Hamlet to overthink anything and to dither endlessly.

          Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
          And thus the native hue of resolution
          Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought

          Bad muse! Bad muse!

          Incidentally, Facebook kept rejecting the Disqus “register with” form. Don’t know whether to scold Facebook or Disqus for raising barriers to reader participation, but one of ’em deserves a few slaps on the wrist.