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The Art of Powerful Questions (2003) [pdf] (umanitoba.ca)
199 points by azizsaya on Feb 16, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 14 comments

In context, allow me to share this gem of a comic: http://kiriakakis.net/comics/mused/a-day-at-the-park

I won't say anything about it, because I don't want to spoil it for you.

That was lovely. Thanks for sharing!

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” -Albert Einstein

Reminds me of:

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." -Abraham Lincoln

As soon as I saw that Einstein quote, I couldn't help wondering if it was fake. I'm really unable to say for sure - I can't get beneath the thick layer of websites with it, or saying it's "attributed to" Einstein or he is "claimed to have said it", etc. No mention of a source when you search for it. So, I'm sceptical. I downloaded the PDF.. there's another Einstein story:

Many years later,an empirical demonstration showed that light from distant stars actually curved as it passed through the gravitational force of our sun. Einstein’s graduate students rushed to him as he was walking through the Princeton campus and exclaimed, “Dr. Einstein, light really does bend!” Einstein looked at them quizzically and said, “Of course!”He had come to this conclusion through exploring the question in his own thought experiment years before.

I can't find "Dr. Einstein, light really does bend" online except in this article. I asked the questions Uh, wasn't that 1919? Was he in the US in 1919? (A: First visited 1922, moved there 1933). But the writing leaves you uncertain which experiment ("demonstration"?) they mean, or what ...

A lot of it has the same vague, unpindownable nature. There just seems something peculiarly dead and unreadable about the style of the article. It's hard to force my eyes to read it. Extremely boringly written, repellent. I found that the most fascinating thing about it - Q. How did they manage to create such an unattractive, uninviting style?

Those seem to be relatives of "Measure twice and cut once!"

Yes, the one asking the question is often under-appreciated, while the one answering the question takes all the credit. I see this all the time.

Before the internet, I user to spend a lot of time pondering questions to which the answer was in a textbook somewhere. Sometimes I figured them out for myself.

Today, I rarely spend much time pondering questions whose answer is in Wikipedia. I just look it up.

Pondering any question is good mental exercise for others. I wonder if the easy availability of answers to most questions makes it harder to tackle the truly unsolved ones.

There's a related thing, too. I notice that easy answers mean it takes me longer to realize I'm asking a slightly wrong or less useful question than I should be.

Its a fair point. However, I don’t think it has reduced our capacity for thinking, it’s simply allowed us to think more about stuff that others haven’t, which is pretty awesome. We’re building a shared corpus of understanding as a species that we never had before, which seems exciting. Most of my friends verify things on Wikipedia or the internet before giving an answer to a question; basic fact checking allows making informed decisions which perhaps have a higher likelihood of success. Well maybe not but the success or failure would both be worthwhile since the reason it failed couldn’t just be that it was based on a lie.

I think it hinders our ability to identify an unsolved problem, I'm always left wondering if there's no easy answer to the question I asked Google or if I just wrote the wrong query. The feeling is that there's always an answer, someone already did or thought about that and wrote it somewhere, on Stack Overflow or a personal blog, and I just didn't write the right Google query yet.

Summary repo here: https://github.com/joelparkerhenderson/powerful_questions

These questions and practices are very relevant for startup teams and tech teams, such as for strategic project planning with limited resources, or issue postmortems using blameless retrospectives, or pitch deck presentations for choosing the big questions to tackle.

Powerful questions are disruptive. They invite revolution.

Corporations HATE disruptive questions. They destabilize the status quo and the large scale infrastructure that relies on it. They embarrass executives who can't answer them with a platitude or deflective business-speak. And they leave stockholders less confident that the company is on track to predictably increase share value next quarter.

Universities dislike revolutionary questions because professors are just as dependent on status quo as corporate executives are. Revolutionary ideas dispose of all that hard earned expertise you developed in the past decades and force you to start over, reduced in rank from being a renowned expert to just another student. Worse still, such questions require rethinking and replacing too many models and theories, consuming much too much development time to ship yet another incremental research paper in time for the gauntlet of conferences, thereby letting your academic life's blood. They also tend to irritate and/or confuse others who do peer review and/or approve funding.

No. Powerful questions can't be too powerful. Consider Galileo or Darwin or Einstein. If the three had depended on the support of their peers to sustain their careers, then after asking their Magnum Opii, all would have perished.

Every entrepreneur and CEO should be able to answer these question without thinking. Eventually every output is caused by degree of focus and this document is an example to amplify meaning from effort.

"He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer." - Elie Wiesel, Night

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