Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Forget the Answer. Do You Know the Question?

Our world is moving forward at a blinding pace, and technology is leading the charge. No matter where we are on the continuum of being "tech-savvy," there are those who look to us as being the "tech guru" while we are awed by those who seem so much farther down the road than we. Those who can solve the problems and find the answers are essential. There is, however, another group who is as valuable—if not more valuable. They are the ones who ask the right questions.

Perhaps the most memorable of these experiences happened over 20 years ago during a talk I had with the school system's transportation director. Those who work in small school systems wear many hats, and Jim was a prime example. He began to show me the paperwork nightmare that was his system for keeping up with field trips. Calendars with multiple pieces of paper stapled to them littered the desk. Invoices had to be typed at the end of each month for each school listing every field trip taken and the amount owed. In the midst of lamenting about his paper avalanche, he asked the question that changed that transportation system overnight.
As he glanced at the AppleIIGS computer sitting across the room, Jim asked, "Is there any way that computer can help me?" 
This man knew little about computers, and at the time, I knew even less about transportation. However, Jim was able to describe the kind of information he needed. It would be a conversation which would have long-lasting effects on both of us.

 The next day, I was back in Jim's office with a database I had created on a program called “AppleWorks,” the Cadillac program of that time. The input screen was designed to parallel the paper request forms that were submitted to him. Input, thus, was made so simple he could delegate it to an assistant. For years, that school district ran its transportation system from that simple database. Along the way, Jim found shortcuts. That tends to happen when average folk like you and me start to sit down and actually use technology. We get better. Eventually, we get very good at it.

Over the years, the names have changed, and technology has improved dramatically. The essential elements are still there, however. We still need people who can solve problems. Now more than ever, we need people who can ask the right questions.

 Our world is one where information is often seconds away, and often supplied by someone we have never met. We can accomplish a Google search in a matter of seconds. Somebody out there has probably thought through the same question which confronts us and has seen fit to share it. The answer is there. Our challenge is to frame the question appropriately. We need those who can supply the answers. But first, we need those who can identify the questions.

 I am beginning to understand that we can never find an answer to a question which has not been asked. Whether we are good at finding the answers or good at asking the questions, we can all play a valuable part in the bigger game.

What questions in your environment have gone unasked for too long? What role can you play in asking them? When do you want to get started?
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