If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.
William Edwards Deming
1900 – 1993
Throughout our school years, we were conditioned to answer questions asked in class and on exams. We became accustomed to thinking that the key to success is having the right answers. But if you take a close look at the most successful people in life, you’ll find that their strength is not in having the right answers, but in asking the right questions.
I’d like to give you a great question that will help you in all aspects of life: “And then what?”
It seems simple enough, but let me explain how it works and why it’s so powerful. Assume you’re considering pursuing a goal or taking some immediate action. Far too often, we don’t look beyond the initial result; we fail to consider the long term consequences of the activity.
Let me give you an example. I’m sure you know that we live in a very materialistic society: we measure success by the brand of the car, the size of the house, the amount of annual income and other financial measures. So let’s say you’re dreaming of your ideal house. Getting that house involves a lot of planning and work, and we’ll often dream about how wonderful it will be to finally achieve that goal. But once we’ve gotten there, we don’t experience the ongoing happiness we’d anticipated — and after the initial thrill wears off, we begin to recognize the real burdens associated with owning a big house. If we’d used the question “And then what?”, asking it over and over and digging deeper each time, we might have come to the conclusion that we loved the idea of owning the mansion, not the reality of it.
We’ve all seen a good example of this phenomenon played out in the media. Tiger Woods might have saved himself a lot of money, publicity, and trouble if he had asked himself that question before engaging in multiple affairs. Asking about the consequences of our actions a few times will often reveal that the ultimate outcome may not be so pleasant.
What if the alcoholic or the drug addict had asked and honestly answered: “And then what?” The key, of course, is answering honestly. It does no good to kid yourself. But asking honestly and then answering candidly will give you a glimpse of the consequences of any particular action.
Before you eat that next hot fudge sundae or indulge in a calorie-packed treat, ask yourself, “And then what?” We all understand the immediate gratification of our actions; what we fail to take into account is the long term cost. Learn to ask “And then what?” If you honestly examine the answers a few levels deep, you’ll come to understand that some actions are just too expensive.
Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.
Copyright © 2014 John Chancellor