Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Get the QUESTION right

I started this post to share some reflections on a classic Depeche Mode song (Get the Balance Right) and how it says a lot about entrepreneurship in its quirky satirical way, but my (evidently unbalanced) subconscious took me back to a startup Board interaction I had recently witnessed. So now I am compelled to share that story instead:

I painfully saw how an entrepreneur who had obviously spent many days of his invaluable startup time researching an answer to a prior Board request get slammed by a Board member for doing so.  This is not because the data the entrepreneur had painstakingly uncovered was bad, statistically insignificant or irrelevant, but because the data was ANSWERING THE WRONG QUESTION.

As entrepreneurs we face a million questions a day that cannot wait to be answered. Answering each one takes time and effort away from answering the others, and in may times, raises even more questions. It is imperative that we truly understand the initial question we are trying to answer before spending efforts to answer it.

Here is a process I would follow to see if you've got the question right:

  1. Repeat the question out loud (even if it is you)
  2. Imagine the best and worst answers to the question
  3. Would the answer have any actionable implications?
  4. If not, ask the inquiror about purpose of question
Repeat steps above until everyone believes there is a question worth answering with a clear, actionable purpose that it achieves
This may seem like a lot to do, but it is a lot less effort than the wasted efforts spent on answering the wrong question (not to mention the demoralizing prospect upon finding out).

So, here is to getting the questions right!