What in the world is going on? 3 steps to figuring it out.

questions hands
Dazed by rhetoric, sounds bites, and  confusing messages?
Figuring out what is going on can be done: by learning to ask better, deeper, sharper questions.
Yet, no one teaches us how to ask – what exactly to ask, whom and what to question. Here is a simple guide.

No one teaches us how to ask Questions. Everyone is constantly focused on our answers.

Suppose you are confronted with one of these:

  • This market is unprofitable for us
  • The new CFO is becoming a problem in the company
  • Globalization is responsible for the poor state of the economy
  • Surprise results in the recent elections
  • Technology will eliminate most jobs

What do you do?

  • Should we get out of the market or double-down?Why?
  • Should we replace the CFO, or change the process?Why?
  • Should we pivot away from globalization or not? Time to near-source? In-source? Why?
  • How can we better predict the next elections?Who should get our vote and why?
  • What advice should we give our kids about future careers?
Question --> Reflect --> Understand --> Act!

This is a brief manual on deepening understanding through questions. (A foundational element of critical thinking, but I will leave that for another post).

A. What questions to ask?

There are basically three steps in understanding an issue, each with its own set of questions:

STEP 1. The basics: Facts and assumptions

Understand the background of facts and assumptions behind the statement, the event, the thoughts etc. You are likely to have partial information about each of these, and it is important to separate the facts from the assumptions.

  • What is happening? (and how do you know that?)
  • Who is involved? (and how do you know that?)
  • When did it / will it happen? (and how do you know that?)
  • Where did it / will it happen? (and how do you know that?)
  • How did it happen? (and how do you know that?) And also:
    • How often?
    • How much?
    • etc

STEP 2. Understand the causes:

  • Why?
    • Why did it happen? (and how do you know that?)
    • Why this person / people? (and how do you know that?)
    • Why at this time? (and how do you know that?)
    • Why at this location / geography etc? (and how do you know that?)
    • Why so much? Why this way? etc. (and how do you know that?)

STEP 3. Understand the consequences:

  • So-what?
    • What does this mean? (and how do you know that?)
    • What should I do about it? (and how do you know that?)
    • What is likely to happen next? (and how do you know that?)

B. What should we question?

Well, broadly speaking, “question everything”, it is preferred to the alternative!… But, let’s classify these occasions into a few categories:

1. Question statements:

  • Next time someone makes a strong, assertive statement – usually presented as a fact – get your questions ready.
  • When you are reading a report – business, political, financial, media, etc. be ready to evaluate every statement you read.

2. Question events

  • Protests, riots, floods, earthquakes, celebrations, debates, elections, : what will you learn when you start questioning what you are looking at, why it is happening, and what it might propel you to do!?

3. Question observations

  • Our observations of patterns of events, behaviors, thoughts, will yield insights about our environment and how it affects us.

4. Question thoughts and emotions

  • This is the foundation of self-reflection that forges self-awareness, learning and maturity.
  • “Our new product is unprofitable”
    • The basics: What/who/where/when/how
      • Which product exactly?
      • In which market?
      • For what period of time?
      • How did it develop?
    • Causes: Why
      • Is the price too low? How much? When? How did we set it? Why?
      • Are the costs too high? Which costs? By how much? Why? When?
    • Consequences: So-what
      • Should we close it down? Why? When? How?
      • Should we raise the price? Why? Why not? How will this work exactly? How much?
      • Should we try to reduce costs? Which ones? How? How much?
      • Should we wait to build more volume?
      • What else should we do about it?
  • Globalization is responsible for the state of the economy
    • The basics: What/who/where/when/how
      • What parts of the economy? What elements of globalization? All? Some? which?
        • Wages? Jobs? Stock market?
      • Who is affected? How many? How much?
        • Working class? College educated? Urban? Rural? Other? By how much?
      • When did is start / happen / end?
        • Sudden? Gradual? Since when? How fast?
      • Which geographic areas are affected?
        • All? Some areas more then others?
      • How is it affecting these parts of the economy exactly?
    • Causes: Why
      • Why this effect?
      • Why this group?
      • Why this timing?
    • Consequences: So-what
      • Should we change the relevant laws?
      • Should we change the terms?
      • Should we retrain?
      • Should we do nothing?
      • What else?
      • Should I be looking for a new career?

Try it!

  • The EU / austerity / education / demagoguery / is responsible for the Brexit vote
    • What, where, when, who, how / Why? / So-what? What will I do different now?
  • Get a technical / liberal arts / … education
    • What, where, when, who, how / Why? / So-what? What will I do different now?
  • Severe floods hit the southern states / Eastern China /  India / …
    • What, where, when, who, how / Why? / So-what? What will I do different now?
  • Protests and riots explode   in Maryland / Egypt / Greece /…
    • What, where, when, who, how / Why? / So-what? What will I do different now?
  • I love / hate this painting / music / person / …
    • What, where, when, who, how / Why? / So-what? What will I do different now?
Note: Types of questions

I focus here only on one class of questions: Questions posed to evaluate a statement, event, situation etc.(Another class is the kind of  question we construct to describe the problem we are trying to solve.  I will not elaborate on this here, as it is outlined in detail in this post. And a final class is the original questions we ask to obtain information, i.e. not in response to a statement or event. We will deal with this later).

Marina K
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