Don’t Obsess Over The Answer. Obsess Over The Question.

There are plenty of big questions out there in the universe

We want results. And we want them yesterday!

Give me answers.

I want solutions. Not problems.

It’s often the case that we obsess over the answer, the final outcome, the end result. But if we neglect the question, the answer can be rendered irrelevant. And the process of arriving at the solution becomes inefficient and wasteful.

As mentioned in a previous post (Slow Down! Why busy people need to stop and disconnect) the first step is to gain some perspective and objectivity.

Breathe deeply and slow things down. We are all very busy and this can affect our ability to distinguish the wood from the trees.

With this done, it’s time to change the obsession.

The Answer Is In The Question

Knowing how to phrase a question correctly is key to gaining a meaningful solution to the problem.

This is what Adam Morgan and Mark Barden call “A Propelling Question” in their book A Beautiful Constraint.

“A propelling question is one that has both a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together”

It forces you to think and behave in a different way.

The Audi R10 TDI was the answer to a propelling question

(Image courtesy of http://www.evo.co.uk/audi/7921/audi-diesel-for-le-mans)

Morgan and Barden offer several examples of propelling questions that harness the constraint to the ambition, ensuring the constraint drives the solution:

  • How do we win the race with a car that is no faster than anyone else’s? (Audi, Le Mans 2006)
  • How do we build a well-designed, durable table for five euros? (IKEA)

In this way, questions that exhibit a bold ambition linked to a limiting factor, or constraint, will yield better answers.

The Power Of Why

My two-year old son understands the Power Of Why all too well.

He is a master.

There isn’t a statement or utterance that isn’t met with an instant “why?” in our house.

This will inevitably lead to an explanation. Followed by another “why?” And some further explanation. Then yet another “why?” In a seemingly endless sequence in search of the truth (usually ending in exasperation or throwing the question back at him: “why do you think?” – that’s CIA-level parenting for you).

But there’s a wisdom in this transaction.

As annoying as it can be, it is his way of trying to understand things better. He’s not satisfied with the quick, generic response to his question. He wants to know the detail.

“Why” is the way to a clearer answer.

Especially once you’ve found an initial solution.

Ask yourself, why you should accept it? Or, why it worked? Even, why you arrived at that answer and not a different one?

Do this and your results will improve.

Stretch And Challenge

The grid below is used widely in education.

The language you use in your questions is critical

It teaches the vocabulary of inquiry and how to ask good questions (for both teachers and students).

As you can see, “Why” questions (along with “How”) feature in the higher order Analytical and Application Synthesis sections of the grid.

When coupled together with the verbs across the top of the grid, these form powerful questions that really stretch and challenge your thinking. Inevitably leading you to a better answer.

It’s Ok Not To Have All The Answers

So long as you’re asking the right questions.

Get the question right, and you open the door to an intricate thought process.

You will arrive at the solution. There will be a final outcome. And you will gain results.

But the journey, the twists and turns, the developing sequence of questions that you use to arrive at the answer, may end up being more beneficial and enlightening.

Why?

How?

Over to you.

 

Gareth

 

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The Alphabet Writing Challenge (It’s Not As Easy As It Sounds!)

The alphabet is there to be played with.

A while back I started setting myself short writing challenges. By doing so, I hoped to inject some fun into my blog whilst also providing ideas for anyone whose writing might be stagnating.

Creative writing should be just that: creative.

Doing something a little bit different can shake things up and help break you out of any rut you may find yourself in.

Experimenting and playing with language by imposing constraints and limitations means you have to take time to think imaginatively in order to find a solution. Find ways to focus your thinking and force yourself to pay attention to your craft. Give yourself time to play with written forms and you’ll soon see the benefits.

Here’s an example.

In this post I have set myself the alphabet writing challenge. Just in case you hadn’t noticed thus far, having started this post with the letter ‘a’, I have continued every subsequent sentence with the proceeding letter of the alphabet. Knitting it all together is where the creative wordplay comes into its own.

Let’s consider the uses for an exercise like the alphabet writing challenge.

Most would agree that, on the face of it, this is little more than a contrived piece of writing that serves no obvious purpose.

Nevertheless, by restricting the way you start your sentences in order to structure your writing, however contrived it may seem, demands creative thinking and considerable attention to detail.

Originally I set out to write twenty-six paragraphs, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, but I didn’t think this would amount to much of a challenge. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in changing my parameters down to twenty-six sentences, but there you go.

Quick as you like, my change of approach made writing this post infinitely more challenging – a problem with an ambitious outcome bound by a significant constraint.

Really, when compared to the other challenges I’ve set myself in the past, this one has required the most thought and creativity. Some letters of the alphabet do not naturally lend themselves to a starting berth in a sentence.

This is when you need to get really creative.

Up until this point it hasn’t been too bad. Varying sentence structures has been essential. When you get to the end of the alphabet though, it gets pretty tough.

Xylographs are engravings on wood, apparently.

Yes, that last sentence was extremely contrived, but this approach to writing is a great way to expand your vocabulary, and it’s a necessary evil if you are to stick to the form (just don’t do it too often, otherwise you risk entering the realms of nonsense).

Zenith achieved!

26 sentences, each beginning with consecutive letters of the alphabet. Not as easy as I first thought. But an enjoyable lexical challenge nonetheless.

Give it a go.

Share your efforts with me in the comments section below, or via my social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).

Happy writings!

 

Gareth

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I stopped using ‘e’ and it was hard!

Proud as a peacock with my lipogram efforts

Look! It’s a lipogram minus that fifth symbol in our Anglo-Saxon syllabary!

My last post about not using ‘a’ in my writing was fairly fruitful. But now a similar trial has found its way onto my lap(top). My task? To draft a lipogram without using that fifth symbol in our Anglo-Saxon syllabary at any point in my post.

I told you so!

Why am I doing this ridiculously tricky task? A pal said that I should.

That’s it…

To his mind my prior post was too straightforward and had nothing to it.

Don’t assign any “A’s” to your writing? No probs! Any fool with a modicum of insight and imagination can do that!

But that fifth symbol. That sign that is customarily found in our writing. Omitting that is a fitting confirmation of skill (and impulsivity).

Prior to this I thought I was foolhardy. Now I know that I am just a stubborn ass in my pursuit of lipogrammatic triumph.

I want to say to my old amigo “I told you so! I told you I could do it!”

So it’s onwards and upwards from this point forward.

Sitting on top of a building looking down at the world beneath your feet.

THIS is strikingly difficult.

But still a fantastic brain workout.

As with my last post of this kind, I truly savour how writing drills of this sort focus your mind. By imposing limitations and constraints on your work you ask that your brain think in distinct ways to find solutions.

It boosts your vocabulary too!

Any author or artistic individual will find this kind of activity fulfilling and possibly a bit hooking.

I know I do!

Mostly to confirm that I can actually accomplish such a tortuous task.

This is why YOU should try it.

Lipograms afford you an opportunity to amplify your capacity with words.

If you blog, you must try this task.

If you find joy in writing, you will fancy giving this a go.

If nothing, it’s a fantastic distraction from doing actual work! I think that is a major contributing factor to my frolics with lipograms.

As with anything you do, it’s a bit of a thrill to find triumph in any taxing task.

Writing this lipogram was fun.

And that’s most important.

I found I was grinning on many occasions during my writing. Such silly actions can add fun to a working day, and possibly stop it from spiralling down into banality.

It’s a way of splitting up that long list of tasks you must finish, with original and unusual thinking. It might aid you in accomplishing your goals by providing you with a surprisingly vanguard approach to your work.

In summary…

Writing should thrill you.

So add fun to it!

Assist and boost your brain into thinking in distinct ways. If your writing is stagnant you will find this kind of activity handy. It’s a practical way out of mind rot.

Why not play along? Do your own lipogram.

Push your mind and your words to work for you.

So, in conclusion…

I want to proclaim this as a linguistic victory.

I’m as proud as a bird with ridiculously long tail quills!


Gar’th

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