The As-King!— Quotidian — 421

(Transcript of video originally posted on 28 Sep 2022)

A few years ago, this was a big rage on Netflix. Orange is the new black! That “new black” is a reference to fashion clothing. Black is a colour that goes with any other color! Orange? The color of jail-uniform.

You may have heard of this too — Data is the new Oil! Once upon a time, they used to say “Oil is the new Gold”. And, now, if you have data, you are almost all-powerful, that is the message of that phrase. Data, is the new oil!

This one, our Seth Godin called it “Small is the new big!” He said startups today can actually, … really thumb their nose at a very large enterprise.. With agility! He penned a full book on that philosophy!

Recently though, I came across this book. This book is called The Book of Beautiful Questions. And, guess what the message of this book is?! Mr Warren Berger, the author, says:- “Questions are the new answers!” Shocked? Shall we explore it a bit more?

Namaste! Four hundred and twenty one! The King of Questions. Or the Queen! We have talked in quite a few episodes about Questioning and the importance of it. But there were a few things that I wanted to dwell deeper on, and that is what we are going to do today!

Are you able to make sense of these words here? Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi! Yes, Harry Potter, the first book, the Sorcerer’s Stone! In that book, there is a mirror that is featured. The Mirror of Erised. And, it doesn’t just show an image of whoever stands in front of them, but, instead, shows their deepest desires, what they wish for deep in their heart. But, I remember something from this scene that is EVEN MORE lovable than this beautiful plot twist. A conversation. Between Dumbledore and Harry Potter. “Professor Dumbledore, Can I ask you something?” And the professor would respond with, “Didn’t you notice? You’ve already done that!” (There is a question sitting right there in the “Can I”, you see!) “But, my dear, you may ask me one more question!” Whenever I recall that scene, I tell myself, this is the most important task for any teacher towards their student! To encourage the student to ask one more question! It’s almost as if Dumbledore is giving Harry the permission for lifelong learning! Ask One More! That scene is etched in my mind!

There is a famous website called Stackoverflow. Many programmers, developers, engineers, visit it regularly! It is almost as if it is their internal Google. If Stackoverflow is down, these guys may even want to take a break, they will feel like their arms are tied behind their back! Such a website! Why is it so important? Well, this is like Quora, you can ask any question in tech-matters, and you are likely to get a good answer, very soon. There are many answering sites like this one, but why is Stackoverflow so famous? The answer lies in the community. The way they have set it up, they even have a set of guidelines on how to ask good questions! When I look at those guidelines, I get the feeling that these are more generally applicable too.. They can be used as guidelines for asking questions in real life too! Just take a look at these! The first guideline? Provide a context! If you are going to ask something of somebody, give them the context. Why, who, when, where, what, … How did that question come up? Give them that context. What domain, what surrounding environment, is this question a central part of? The person you are targeting must first understand that! Don’t just hit them like a bolt from the blue! The second requirement we have is, “Tell us why you are asking that question!” That is because, more often than not, newcomers, beginners, newbies, they ask questions that don’t actually require just an answer… the answerer has to spend time wondering why such a question came up in the first place, and try answering the bigger problem “upstream”. Sometimes, the question has to be unasked, they say! So, tell us why you are asking that this question, because, sometimes, we may have to drill deeper, bark up the tree, and fix it for you. And then, they say, Share the Research! “Where all did you go before coming here? What doors did you try knocking down? What responses did you get there? What attempts did you make? What didn’t apply? What results did you see? What went wrong?” Why are they asking this? Why are they asking you to tell what went wrong and what else you tried before coming to them? That’s because they want you to earn the right to ask a question. In Stackoverflow, you can’t just sign up, and start asking a question! You need to earn your chops! You are wasting my time, aren’t you? I am an answerer.. You are wasting my time, and so, have you spent an equivalent amount of time trying to get at the answer yourself? Give me proof! Are you able to see that some of these can actually be applied to real life too?

If you want to broaden the scope that we just saw from Stackoverflow, you can go to a book titled “The Art of Asking!” In that book, the author talks about seven things you need to check, through introspection, before asking the question. What are those seven things? What data are you going in search of? What is it you are looking for? And.., are you specific enough? Are you on a fishing expedition or are you here, looking for this, because of this, … are you specific? Then, are you specific as well about the time? I need it by this time.. If I get it AFTER this timeline, it is as good as useless…This is the reason I need it by this time, etc.. Is there a timeliness to it..? Should you have asked this question earlier? Or should you have waited for a better opportunity for this question to be asked? These are questions you need to ask yourself? Who are you asking it to? Is this the person who owns the answer? Is this the person or group of persons who are the right people to answer it for you? Don’t shoot the messenger — remember?! What are the implications? Because you have asked this question, what are the side-effects? What are the after-effects? Did you spend some thought before asking this question? How about, what manner you are adopting to ask this question? There are SO MANY different ways to ask the same thing! How was the movie? — is a neutral question. Wasn’t it amazing? — Is a loaded way to ask it. It was no good, was it? — Is a pre-loaded negative question! Are you asking it the right way? And finally, this is my clincher… what is the response you have for a kind of answer that might come!? If the person says I don’t know, do you have a response? If the person gives an answer, which doesn’t look like a good answer, what is your response? That.. those are the seven things you need to keep in mind. You need to ask yourself!

When we talk about “asking yourself”, I am reminded of this MacGuffin Quotidian we did — in Q322. Kuberakkuppai. The MacGuffin. In it, we talked about something unique and specific called Rubberducking. What is that? Well, if you are planning to approach a genius, or an expert, or a busy person, before you go with your question… a professor even implemented this as an experiment, outside his office room.. Before you reach his desk, there is another desk where there is a rubber duck or a teddy bear. The student or the person in the quest for the answer, is supposed to sit at the desk, look at the rubber duck, and tell the problem to the duck! Does it look insulting?? Nope! It respects you, it respects the expert, because the answer comes out, more often than not! During the time you take to explain it carefully to the duck, .. you will stop halfway, for suddenly you are going to realise that the answer has dawned on you! And, there are scientific explanations too, why rubberducking really works!

There are four reasons! One, you tend to slow down when you talk. When you verbalise. Thoughts run very fast! They are the horses of your imagination. But, speech? They are tortoises in comparison. They will move very slowly. When you slow yourself down, because the mouth and the tongue is slowing your play of words coming from your thoughts, automatically, remember System II thinking from Daniel Kahneman? That takes over, and System II, we all know, is the subconscious. Much smarter! And answers that have been staring us in our face all along, answers that have been ignored till now, will finally come in front of you! Secondly, there is this ELI5 effect. Explain Like I’m Five effect. To a little child, without using any jargon, when you make it dead simple, you realise the answer is actually hidden in the words of your question. When talking to an expert, you don’t do that. You don’t oversimplify. The third reason is, you are talking to a computer! And, that is why, when you are facing a programming bug, you are stuck.. unable to solve it. What is the point talking to a human being about a problem that came up when you were talking to a computer?! Talk to another inanimate object instead! That is another reason why it works. Talking to an inanimate object… what is the biggest benefit in doing so? They don’t interrupt you! Most of the time, when you talk, the other person is waiting for an opportunity to talk. The other person is waiting to find mistakes in the way you talk! When you talk to a rubber duck, it has infinite patience, it is listening to you, and it is ready to make you spill the answer yourself! So, these are the four reasons why they say rubberducking works so well! So, probably, before you go out with a question, go IN, with that question!

Seth Godin, in this book — This is Marketing — has this to say. He says, “People don’t want what you make… (I hope you remember the quarter-inch-drill-bit!) That’s not what they are coming to you for! They are coming to you for loftier emotions. Like? Like belonging, connection, peace of mind, status symbols,.. You need to look at your product as simply a vehicle or a device to trigger those emotions in your customer’s mind. So, don’t get lost in the tactics.

Losing sight of the true interest the customer has!” And, he goes on to say, “Ask these two questions all the time, about the product you are building. Simple straightforward questions. Who is it for? And, what does it do for them?”

A few days ago, on Whatsapp, I received this interesting message. You must have seen it too. Policemen in Netherlands. In Eindhoven. Do you remember? A story accompanied this photo. The story went thus:- “After a woman was taken to the hospital with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), two policemen stayed behind to prepare dinner for the five kids who were still in the house. Afterwards, they also did the dishes.” The policemen could have thought, “My job? I am a policeman, I am here to chase thieves, and maintain law and order..” Who am I for? What does it do for them? — Those two questions from Seth Godin. If they had deliberated deeply about it, they may have arrived at.. “Who am I? I am here to protect and to serve. What is “protect”? Doesn’t mean one needs protection only when there’s a knife to the neck! Protect can also mean a life-threatening health situation with nobody else around to help! That is Protect too. Children! Providing dinner for them! That is to Serve. Cleaning the dishes! Probably Serve! So, ask those two questions — Who is it for? What does it do for them?

If you look at a Teacher-Student relationship, there are three levels again, in questioning. At the first level, the ANSWER is important. Square root of two — If that question is asked, the answer.. So, those kinds of questions are asked because the answer is important. The second level is the kind of question that is asked because the QUESTION is important. If the square root of 16 is 4, and the square root of 4 is 2, .. what is the square root of 2… suddenly the question becomes important. Why? It is not a proper nice fraction. It is irrational. When that thought strikes you, you are dragged in the direction of, “Hey, What is irrationality?!” So, here, the question is more important than the fifth decimal after the decimal point in the expansion of the square root of two. Is it not? There is a third level. And, the third level is the kind of question that is asked because the PROCESS of questioning is important.. Question everything! It is the person who asks SUCH questions goes on to the square root of zero, and asks, what is the square root of -1??! So, question everything, is what leads to true wisdom! If we hook these back to our favourite words, Questions asked because the ANSWER is important — is the WHAT. What is the square root of sixteen? Questions asked because the QUESTION is important — is the WHY. Why are irrational numbers different from rational ones? Questions asked because the PROCESS is important — is the HOW. Where the aim is only to ask questions, and hope clarity arrives.

On Netflix, there is this beautiful series called Tales by Light. Photographers talk about their various adventures. There is a particular episode titled Himalaya. In The Himalayas, in Bhutan, monks, Buddhist monks, how they improve their understanding, how they expand their learning about Buddhism, is beautifully picturised. It almost looks like they are fighting, doesn’t it? A monk is seated. Another is standing in front of them. They argue about complex concepts. Simple philosophies. And, what is so beautiful is, after this session is over, they change places. Whoever was talking FOR a particular topic, takes a completely different viewpoint, and starts fighting against! A great way to lower your ego, the senior monks say! The process. The act of Questioning. Asking because ASKING is important. Not because I am in search of anything else. Asking is what I believe is my guide. If I do that, I am confident that freedom and deliverance await me on the other side!

Closing thought. This guy, Warren Berger, has written two books. One, we already saw, The Book of Beautiful Questions. But, before that one, he had written another. A More Beautiful Question. Some questions that were asked in the “More Beautiful Question” book, required explaining. And, that’s why I wrote the second book, the author says. In the foreword for the books, he makes a comment: “There is an entomologist… He researches about insects and flies. Then, there is an archaeologist.. She researches about old buildings and artifacts. But… questions? Is there a person who researches them? Is there a term for such people? Nope. Couldn’t find any. So, I decided to concoct a word all by myself. I decided to call myself a Questionologist.” He closes by saying, (and it pains me to hear it!):- “I called myself the Questionologist. And started going around with a visiting card saying that. I started printing books that introduced me with that title. But, guess what? Nobody asked me why I was calling myself a Questionologist!” What a problem!! Let us meet again next week! Thank you!

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

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Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.