Good questions get to the essence of the problem you are exploring, provide a way of understanding what is happening now and give us the tools we need to measure whether or not we are making progress in developing an answer. Good questions help people convene around problems and when the right question gets under your skin your curiosity and creativity is engaged in exploring possible answers. Bad questions just lead you down one path – they close you in rather than opening up your possibilities.
The right question creates a shared agenda where people can test different answers – rather than starting a process with one solution running out front and people who think differently just chasing it. I lean into my training as a researcher when thinking about questions – and I draw a distinction between:
- A good question: which identifies the problem space
- An addressable question: which contains the shape of an answer
We tend towards creating addressable questions; Can we reduce the number of widgets that we use? How can we deliver better outcomes for our citizens? How can we reduce/increase/delay/deflect this or that event? Addressable questions are nearer to solutions and we all want actions and answers.
Good questions are more difficult. They ask us to think hard about why we want to take action as well as what we want to do. The right question will open up discussion around values, purpose and create a call to action that can build momentum. Good questions are the starting point of a successful research or design process because without them we never take the opportunity to reframe the problem and think about what we are trying to achieve not just what we want to do.
The magic comes when we connect the two, when we break our good questions down into the addressable steps of action and work out how to move forward. You can’t create a good answer without a good question.