Are we asking the right question?

Anyone following my blog or tweets will know that I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. Today I saw an excellent interview by Adam Grant of Wharton where he spoke to Gladwell for about 20 minutes about his new book David and Goliath. Highly recommend watching it since he touches on topics related to leadership, entrepreneurship and the need to review our assumptions and build on (or “adjust”) our past ideas.

Asking the right questions – if “right” is the correct word – is an extremely important and often overlooked tool to problem solving. We are often more interested in rushing towards answering or “finding” the right answer than taking a pause to consider if our question is the right one and if it will really lead us to the solution we are seeking.

Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use 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.”

In a TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell from way back in 2004, he talks about asking the right questions and innovating spaghetti sauce. That’s right, spaghetti sauce. Gladwell is sometimes known as the “spaghetti sauce guy” – now you know why. The talk has some important takeaways such as:

1) The right question can be disruptive – to an industry, to a company, to the status quo. It certainly was for spaghetti sauce!

2) The process to finding the right questions to ask shows us that we live in a complex world where right “answers” might not necessarily exist. The whole idea of “right answers” is somewhat subjective. Right answers only exist in a linear world or a homogeneous group of people.

3) Finally, formulating better questions is about continuous learning – seeking out better questions, re-assessing direction, being non-complacent and building relevant organizations.


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