The hilarious and insightful creator of one of the most original political comedy series on television, Antony Jay said it best: “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.”
The questions are the most important.
When I left the Obama Administration last year, I was looking for the answers to “What company or organization should I go to work for or should I start another company?” But really, that was the wrong question.
Peter Thiel, of PayPal fame wants to know, “What are you doing that no one else is?”
It is our struggle to craft the right questions – that is where and when the extraordinary begins. But it is hard. Even more challenging is pinpointing the answers to those questions. Yet, if we are careful and creative about constructing the question we are likely to see a plethora of options we never imagined before.
Take the much-debated question, “Can women have it all?” It’s the wrong question. The bigger payoff is answering the question, “What is ALL?" – at least for me and for those I care about.
And how about world hunger? We discovered by answering the wrong question we came up with the wrong answer. We thought it was, “How do we get people enough calories each day?” We discovered it's really about ensuring people get the essential micronutrients that promote full cognitive and physical development. Whether it is obesity in the US or stunted growth in poor countries, calories is the simple but rarely the right answer.
Whether you are in the White House Situation Room or discovering whether there are enough people willing to buy the products you want to start a company to produce or whether you should quit your job to write a book, it is all about taking the time to carefully construct the key questions. They are usually not the obvious ones.
As I left D.C. and moved back to my beloved West, I finally figured out the right questions for me to ask about my next chapter. How could I have the biggest impact I have ever had in my life in creating a freer, more fair and prosperous world? How could I work with people I adore? And, what private sector and entrepreneurial solutions were there that could produce these results?’ As I asked those questions so many more compelling options emerged.
Our simple truth. It’s about getting the questions right.