Monday, 28 June 2010

Knowing the question

The internet continues to make people feel like super powerful know-it-alls. I fall into this trap as much as anyone, usually claiming sporting knowledge then using my mobile phone to find the answer only to struggle because I don't even know what to type in to Google in the first place. It is often easy to think you can get the answers and information you need online so you just nod and go with the flow but, most of the time it isn't that simple. You need to know a few things usually first in order to find relevant information and be able to trust it.

That old saying ‘there is no substitute for experience’ is perhaps more true today than it has ever been. I find myself taking a lot of information in from other people only to find, when questioning it, that it is really just something picked up on the internet. Worse still it is often out of context and when I find the offending item online myself it often reveals the real problem and the correct answers more easily follow.

A while back I posted a 'Thought for the week' on this subject (click here) and I'd extend this to include knowing the right questions in the first place as of equal if not more importance.

Often this problem can be solved by thinking a bit more about how you can find the right question in the first place. I work with a bunch of smart people and some are really good at what I am going to call 'question discovery'. For example, when they come into my office with a question they often start by giving me the context / problem, then they ask a series of open questions and as they take on board my answers they then start ensuring they understand these clearly by asking some closed questions, so it’s not this because...but it could be if... The other way this works is simply by me giving the problem its more widely held or semi official name, and then they have information that helps establish their searches for the answers.

Knowing the question is critical to finding the answers that you need and developing this question still has to involve people and their experience. And the internet can only really help when the question is one that can be supported by answers that can be found online. This is probably only true for a handful of the problems I see. It is more often the case that the right question means that good old problem solving and innovation is required to answer it, and the framework for these exercises can sometimes be shaped by what is out there or has been completed to achieve similar things in the past.

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