Glenn Williams

by Glenn Williams


Learning to ask the right questions

You won't agree with, or like, everything that Levitt and Dubner present in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, but it does make you wonder if we are asking the right questions at the right time.[1]

Sometimes conventional wisdom is more about convenience

Levitt and Dubner appeal to the person in the street who doesn't have time to read all of the research available on an area of interest or something significant that appears in a headline.

They consider themselves 'rogues' because, in essence, they don't accept ‘conventional wisdom’. This often draws loose, or shaky, conclusions from research that is already based on a set of assumptions, or firmly held beliefs. Levitt and Dubner draw upon numerous examples to demonstrate that ‘conventional wisdom is more about ‘convenient truth’, in that most people can't be bothered really trying to find out what the problem might be; they settle for an explanation or interpretation from someone else, usually an 'expert' or 'authority' figure.

In a world where it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern what is ‘real’ news or ‘fake’ news, or where we are presented with just enough information to enable a ‘quick-win’ at work, asking the right questions is important.

Embrace a strategy that is willing to question the status quo

Levitt and Dubner’s method, is not rocket science.

They take a particular finding that supposedly explains the reason for its existence and then, rather than accepting it as truth, begin to explore if there is a better question that should have been asked. It's a form of professional scepticism. Don't believe it until you have absolutely discovered what is the right question to ask. What is the question that will take you to the core of the issue?

What’s the bottom-line?

Learn to discern the best question to ask in a given situation. Don't just accept the commonly held view, or what Levitt & Dubner would call the ‘convenient truth.’

When you are tempted to be defensive about a position you have taken and don’t allow others to question or challenge your assumptions, your conclusion just might be more about ‘you’ than it is about the outcome. In practice, ‘convenient truth’ says ‘don't rock the status quo’; keep the peace, even knowing there is a better way.

Leaders ask questions.

What are some questions that would help you resolve a difficult situation you are facing at work? What would enable you to take things to a whole new level of productivity or success?

In much the same way that data can be used to transform a business when it is understood, so can practicing the art of asking discerning questions and being ready when others do the same.

[1] Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (New York, HarperPerennial, 2009).


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  • Scott Lutz

    Scott Lutz

    If you ask a question and don’t get the response you expected, then you’ve probably asked the right question. ;-)
  • Glenn Williams

    Glenn Williams

    Haha! One would hope that would be true. Unfortunately, from experience it is not always.