Monday, August 22, 2005

Questions, questions, questions

After a year in my first job as an engineer, I was put on a cross-site research team to develop a new product using as-of-then-undeveloped technology. Gerhard Koenig, the head of that effort and my manager's manager's manager, organized the start of the work in a way that impressed me at the time. Instead of having us organize the tasks that we'd need to do or the ideas we had, he had us create a list of questions we'd need to ask and answer in order to be successful. We spent significant time creating the list, critiquing it, organizing it, and aggregating related questions. Then we began the work of answering each important question on the final list.

His approach still impresses me, for I've not seen others organize research in quite such a manner. That approach kept us from settling in too quickly on ideas that might later prove limiting, and it helped us discover what we needed to know, not just what we already knew.

Since then, I've continued to discover the power of questions, be it in assessing needs, planning work, or even finding clients. It's not always easy, for there's a temptation to show off one's knowledge through statements rather than possibly showing off one's ignorance through questions (I prefer to regard it as showing off my curiousity and interest), but I've almost always found questions more helpful in the long run. Perhaps you've had similar experiences.

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