Summoning The Courage To Ask

Alone in the line.

I’ve had some great teachers in my life, and I’m grateful for them.  They taught me their hard-earned secrets, their simple secrets.  Though each had their own special gifts, they all gave them in the same way – they asked the simplest questions.

Today’s world is complex – everything interacts with everything else; and today’s pace is blistering – it’s tough to make time to understand what’s really going on.  To battle the complexity and pace, force yourself to come up with the simplest questions.  Here are some of my favorites:


For new products:

  • Who will buy it?
  • What must it do?
  • What should it cost?


For new technologies:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • How will you know you solved it?
  • What work hasn’t been done before?


For new business models:

  • Why are you holding onto your decrepit business model?


For problems:

  • Can you draw a picture of it on one page?
  • Can you make it come and go?


For decisions:

  • What is the minimum viable test?
  • Why not test three or four options at the same time?


For people issues:

  • Are you okay?
  • How can I help you?


For most any situation:

  • Why?


These questions are powerful because they cut through the noise, but their power couples them to fear and embarrassment – fear that if you ask you’ll embarrass someone.  These questions have the power to make it clear that all the activity and hype is nothing more than a big cloud of dust heading off in the wrong direction. And because of that, it’s scary to ask these questions.

It doesn’t matter if you steal these questions directly (you have my permission), twist them to make them your own, or come up with new ones altogether.  What matters is you spend the time to make them simple and you summon the courage to ask.

Image credit — Montecruz Foto.

2 Responses to “Summoning The Courage To Ask”

  • I have to smile at this post – and couldn’t agree more. I’ve been in countless meetings (mostly in a sales capacity) where my sales guys weren’t asking the most fundamental questions around budget, timeline, decision criteria, why is the customer doing what they’re doing, etc.. I would keep quiet until my frustration and curiosity got the better of me and I’d ask the simple question(s), almost going back to the beginning. The interesting part was what followed – the customer was only too happy to answer those questions, and indeed the discussion usually took a more positive turn. In addition to the reasons described, they’re also powerful because they send the message that you’re interested in the thinking behind topic being discussed, you really want to understand something, and that facilitates/enhances the relationship between the people in the discussion vs. someone who politely nods their head yet was lost after the 3rd or 4th sentence…

  • Elina Parviainen:

    So good, so clear and so helpful. My experience is that the biggest problem to be handled is the fear that prevents people to use these kind of questions. Why? I think because of the fear they do not know where these questions may lead. It may be possible that you must show in the end what YOU don`t know. Loosing the face is one of the biggest fear. I have also seen how much these questions really help everybody in discussions. Maybe it`s so difficult to say “I don`t know so could you help me?”

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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