I came upon this story recently.
A seriously important message about logic and the meaning of life. It is a bit long and a little complicated but it reaches an important conclusion.
“Don’t you see? This question is nonsense! If you spend your whole life asking the wrong questions, your answers will lead you nowhere.”
It is interesting how often a 2×2 grid will help us understand the nature of things.
Questions may be right or wrong. As dealt with in the story, and as concluded, asking wrong questions can be a costly futility.
At the same time, our answers may be right or wrong. Wrong answers also are deleterious, but not the way you think.
In a general case, we can see four possibilities
- We would like right answers to right questions. We may have trouble finding those because we are at best semi-informed at both questions and answers. A mentor, guide or advisor may be helpful.
- Wrong question /right answer can be quite expensive if you try to make the answer be true. There will be a good deal of evidence to support the right answer and trying to make it fit will be expensive. If you recognize that a right answer is not working you must immediately assume that the question is wrong.
- Right Question / Wrong answer will generally drift. It will be impossible to tell how you are doing.
- The wrong question / wrong answer is interesting. It might actually work out properly, but that is not the way to bet. It revolves around the observation that if you know an answer that is misapplied, as in case 2, you can never succeed no matter how hard you apply the answer. On the other hand, if you know nothing you can occasionally be right by accident.
People tend to think that bad results tend to flow only from bad answers. Not always. Sometimes they just make the question seem to drift. It is a productive exercise to determine if you are asking the right questions. As you can see, wrong question/wrong answer and right question/wrong answer have indeterminate outcomes. You cannot be sure you are on the path to success.
This parallels how strategy and tactics interact and I suppose in some ways they are the same thing. In that analysis we see that tactics (answers) prove the strategy (questions) Good tactics prove the strategy to be either good or bad, while weak tactics prove nothing.
You would find this earlier blog article useful. Strategies and tactics interact.
People almost always need external help with the good question assignment because those, and sometimes the answers, are outside their experience. Seek a guide.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.