Derek Sivers
Questions Are the Answer - by Hal B. Gregersen

Questions Are the Answer - by Hal B. Gregersen

ISBN: 0062844768
Date read: 2024-01-04
How strongly I recommend it: 3/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

I wanted to learn more about asking better questions in personal life, but this ended up being mostly about asking questions in a business team, with lots of stories of his consulting in big businesses.

my notes

Constantly operate under the assumption that you don’t know things that you need to know.
Figure out ways to get them to surface.

Separate your own sense of worth from how the worth of your ideas are judged.

Catalytic questions: the kind that knock down barriers by challenging past assumptions and create new energy for pursing solutions along some new pathway.

Asking a question is a very effective way of introducing a novel way of thinking about something without exposing yourself to judgment.

An invitation to think further within a different framing or along a divergent line.

Mission statements represent the endpoints of discussions and actually stop people from doing any deeper thinking.
Better to have mission questions.

When we see our work as answers, we mistake an answer for the end of an effort.
We go no further.

Answers should lead us to new and better questions.

In the word “question”: “quest”.

Innovative entrepreneurs remember the specific questions they were asking at the time they had the inspiration for a new venture.

Learning process: disagree with what you’re being told and take the opposite position, pushing others to really justify themselves.

Questions get people unstuck.
Reframed questions are utterly surprising in the moment.

Questions: some are convergent, while others are divergent.
Convergent ones seek a single right answer, which in a teaching setting is already known to the teacher.
These “closed” questions - like “What is the average temperature in Hawaii?” - test someone’s knowledge or ability to arrive at a logical answer.
Divergent ones invite more than one answer, like “How should societies respond to climate change?”

Improve your focus by asking, ‘How many times did I say no today?’

Think of someone quite different from yourself and try to adopt the perspective they would take on the situation.
Would a child interpret something differently than you do as an adult?
Or would someone from a different place?

If the vision was to get a monkey to sit on top of a pole reciting Shakespeare, the typical team would go straight to work building that pole.
If teaching the monkey proves impossible, any time spent on other parts of the solution will turn out to have been wasted.

We cling to “stable knowledge” rather than allowing “transforming knowledge” to challenge the basic assumptions.

Malcolm Gladwell Outliers:
Gladwell is starting his book by saying, essentially, “Let’s reframe the question.”
We always ask about the successful: what they’re like. But these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work.
Only by asking where they are from, we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.
It tells the readers: While they have always looked at a topic they care about in one way, they really should be looking at it in another way.

Girl playing with her older brother’s Lincoln Logs and Erector Set.
What would make those toys appropriate for girls, too?

In academia, the politics are especially intense because the stakes are so low.

Questions steer the course of conversations.

How to dissuade or intercept the poachers who found it so easy to trespass on the animals’ habitat?
This new effort asked: Why don’t we move the animals instead? The result was Rhinos Without Borders.
Transported dozens of rhinos to an area of Botswana where poachers have no operations and networks and are easier to keep out.

The culturalist impulse always attempts to explain more with culture than warranted.
The ‘cultural difference’ used in a cultural explanation is more often imagined than real.
To a man with a culturalist impulse, every problem looks like a cultural problem.

I called on half a dozen trusted friends to help me decide.
‘Clearness committee’: a process in which the group refrains from giving you advice but spends three hours asking you honest open questions to help you discover your own inner truth.

Ask others to participate in a Question Burst, summoning empathy and energy.
Include two or three people who are starkly different from you in terms of understanding of the problem and their general cognitive style or worldview.
Don’t pollute their minds with your preconceptions before you’ve gained any benefit from their thinking.
People often believe that their problems require detailed explanations, but that is because they have explored them in depth themselves.
Quickly sharing the challenge forces a high-level framing that doesn’t constrain or direct the questioning.
Just hit the highlights:
How things would change for the better if the problem were solved.
Why you are stuck.
Why it hasn’t already been solved.
Ask people to contribute only questions.
No preambles are allowed.
Generate twenty questions in four minutes.
Subject the questions to a surprise test, an honesty test, and a gut-check test.
Expanding those few into their own sets of related or follow-on questions.

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.
You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.

A classmate made a brilliant comment about a case study.
He realized it came from a very different angle than his own analysis.
He made a note to himself:
What question did they ask of the case that led to such a great insight?

How do you know it’s a problem ripe for a breakthrough, given the right unlocking question?
It’s probably a good candidate if it makes your heart beat fast.

How can I know what I think until I see what I say?

The “five whys”
Write all the questions we would love to have the answers to, to help answer the final question.

Will leaving this money to our children end up tearing them apart?
Will inheritance make it harder for them to be good people?
Together the family shifted to:
What is it that great parents do leave their children that helps them lead great lives?
What is it that we really want?
What’s really important to us?
How are we going to get it?
What is preventing us from having it?
And how will we know that we have it?

Cohesiveness can reduce willingness to disagree and challenge others’ views.

The key to feeling safe was having a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.
The strongest predictor of team success was a high level of psychological safety.

Reverse mentoring.

In your daily comings and goings in circumstances you cannot easily change, you can pack along the condition of assuming greater wrongness as a purely personal perspective.
Tentative, contrarian questions try to assert themselves.
Focus on changing your own attitudes, activities, and behaviors.
Stop assuming your first instincts and default answers are right and instead assume that you are probably wrong.
Quiet your impulse to assert a position and spend more time in receiving mode as opposed to transmitting.

The spaces in which questions thrive are spaces where different conditions prevail.

What does your schedule say matters most to you?

Ask questions, because the world is bigger than what you can see.

Always suspect there is some other, better way to get something done, or another thing they can do.

Put a question mark on everything you are doing, all the time.

Nothing shuts down questioning more than the determination to be right.
When we know we are wrong about something, we stay in a questioning mode.
More receptive to disconfirming evidence.

Spend more time with people who deliver different views and who actively confront them with the truth they are missing.

Questions don’t arise whenever we are wrong.
It’s only on those rarer occasions when we think we’re wrong.

Heuristics: we carry around sets of assumptions in our heads about how things work, allowing us to operate on autopilot.
Mental models themselves have shelf lives, so we need to find mechanisms for revising and updating them.

People are transformed by intense episodes of adversity that push them into periods of self-reflection.

Most learning involves just adding new knowledge where none existed before, or filling in gaps where some did.
But sometimes new information serves to correct “prior misconceived knowledge,” so the effect is not enriching but “concept changing.”
In other words, you were wrong, and you need to be set straight.

It’s rare in everyday life to have a fundamentally flawed mental model.

People who excel at questioning create conditions for themselves in which they feel less certain.

Engage in activities and be in places where you find it hard to get your bearings.
Practice being unashamedly ignorant.
Normalize the activity of constantly gathering and processing information.

Every day I wonder how many things I am dead wrong about.

Because early on, all of our (Pixar) movies suck.
We declare at the outset of a creative process, “We are probably getting this all wrong.”
Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not for any particular project, but he knows his people have to assume it is true if they are to be receptive to constructive criticism.

Cognitive biases: you realize what folly it can be to go with your instincts.

My perception of reality is so inflexibly personal that it has almost no correlation to what’s happening in the world outside of my own skull.

Woodward (journalist) asked questions of his sources that sounded as if he didn’t have the first clue about the matter he was investigating.
Because the reporter hadn’t signaled any established line of inquiry, his interviewees often told him things that were genuinely surprising.

The two greatest states to be in if you’re a scientist is either wrong or confused.
Mysteries are what drive us.
Not knowing is more exciting than knowing, because it means there is much more to learn.
To be in that great state of feeling wrong and confused is to be more open to new possibilities and more apt to challenge old understandings.

Start talking to different people, ideally in different places.

Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad never bought a private jet, preferring to fly not just commercial but economy. On land, he favored public transportation.

Stay close to ordinary people.
Never let the bubble form around you.

Exploration and discomfort: Don’t overdo it.
Discomfort is relative.
Things can’t be so hard to endure that your mind shuts down to survival mode.

Even when you think you have the answer, turn it into a question.

Ask the questions that have no answers.

The point of travel is to confront the questions that I never have to think about at home.

People raised perspective-altering questions but didn’t push for implications and answers.
By failing to deliver on their promise, they left everyone more disappointed than if the questions had never been raised at all.

The only way to get new answers is by asking new questions.
The quality of your questions determines the quality of your answers.
What are you grateful for?
What are you excited about?

Either you change your external environment or you change your internal environment.