Google has created an instant gratification culture…always having the answer to everything at our fingertips can sometimes leave you feeling like the world is working against you on your quest to find the answer to the meaning to life. Why? Because there isn’t one, singular right answer to that question. So often, we get caught up in immediately knowing the answers for everything that we forget the joy in the journey of asking questions, researching, failing, failing again, and finally making a glimmer of progress that leads to our big revelations which give us inspiration and energy to keep pushing forward.

This is especially true for those looking to use data to make more effective decisions. From a young age we are trained to solve math problems to find “the right answer” and in the business world it is easy to fall into this same trap. The only problem is, we don’t operate in an environment where there is “a right answer” most of the time. In fact, there can be multiple right answers, differing degrees of right, and false rights ready to lead you down expensive and painful wrong paths. So what is it that separates the uber successful from those that never get off the ground?… Asking the right questions.

In fact, asking the right questions has less to do with being “right” and more to do with exploring all possible outcomes, vetting and proving unfavorable outcomes and uncovering opportunities that may not have been obvious at the onset. The decision tree analysis concept is a great example of exploring all possible outcomes, but one thing to be careful of is falling into the idea that these are the only outcomes.

Asking the right questions is challenging because typically the answers to these questions are not easy to find and take commitment to explore outcomes. Here are 5 steps to get more effective at asking questions instead of jumping to solutions:

  • Write your end goal down before getting started – having a purpose for the quest makes it easier to go on tangents, get side-tracked and go completely off topic while not feeling like the purpose is being lost. A lot of times the answer to the bigger question can be found in the details on what seems to be an unrelated topic and if you are rushing to find an answer, they can be easily overlooked.
  • Slow Down – don’t rush to find the solution, enjoy the journey of asking questions. Even if they seem like a road to nowhere, ask questions and explore possible outcomes before moving on
  • Make connections through unrelated items – heart stents, space telescopes and more effective air bag deployments were all developed by Origami artists. The unique perspective of someone unrelated to the issue unlocks seemingly unrelated questions that can eventually lead to the massive change necessary to succeed.
  • Keep asking “Why?” – especially when coming to a solution may be challenging, it is easy to settle for “good enough”. Continue to ask questions that challenge the success of the solution. Why is this solution strong enough to outlast fierce competition, changing market environments, or consumer appetite? Why is this the best solution and not just the path of least resistance? Reference step 1 constantly
  • Challenge/Implement/Measure/Adapt – Keep in mind the reason you began asking questions in the first place – to accomplish something. Once you feel that you’ve asked all the questions you need in order to get to the end goal, don’t be afraid to act. Inaction will lead to failure much more often than implementing the wrong solution. Even so, most startups don’t make it out of their first year alive, and one of the key reasons is lack of or inadequate measurement of short term goals as well as adaptation along the way to maximize returns. The odds of your plan being executed flawlessly and every step being perfect along the way are highly unlikely – don’t be afraid to adapt.

Asking questions should be an exciting part of one’s personal and professional journey. Having the curiosity to look at a problem from unique perspectives – perspectives that are typically different than the originators own, gives us the opportunity to step outside our comfort zones and take on a challenge in a different way than normal. Enjoy the journey, fail often, learn from mistakes, and continue to adapt to succeed.

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