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ETpro's avatar

How do you best avoid coming to the right answer only to realize it solves the wrong question?

Asked by ETpro (34145 points ) December 11th, 2012

There is little more frustrating than coming up with the right answer only to later discover it answered the wrong problem. Is this a good way to avoid that wrong-question syndrome, and ensure that our innovative new solution actually answers the correct question? If not, then what do you recommend?

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14 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Of course, I’m a professional at this. You want to know why people are doing what they are doing to make sure you are tackling the right problem. I get tons of people who come into my office and act like they know what they want. “Give me this,” they say. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I gave them that, I’d see them back in my office the next day, and the day after that, asking for something different each time. They might never get it right.

So I have a process I go through with them. Basically, I say, “What is your research question?” Either they have one, or they have to think up one. But if I can get them to refine their research question, everything will follow from that, and when I give them something, it will be what they need; not what they think they need.

I think this experience makes me seem a little arrogant on fluther, sometimes. I will often look at a question, and figure I know the question behind the question—the true question, but the one that wasn’t asked. I will answer that question, instead of the asked question. Or I might answer both. A lot of people don’t know where my answers come from, because they don’t see the question. They think I go too far.

Or they think I assume too much. I assume I know what the real question is, and it is true that I do that and I could be wrong. Unfortunately, I can’t interview people who ask questions on fluther. I can’t ask them their real agenda. I can only use my experience to make a damn good guess about what they really want.

So I answer the real question. I answer the “why” question. Why are you asking this? Where do you really need to get? And in that way, I often avoid having to answer the series of questions that it takes people to get to figure out what they really want.

Still, I’m a professional. I help people figure out what they really want to know for a living. Then I help them figure out how to get the answer to their question. So, this is not something you should try at home. ;-)

blueiiznh's avatar

By validating what the person asking the question really wants to solve.

Ask qualifying questions. Don’t answer the question right off based on a simple questions. Dig into it and find out what the question is really trying to solve.

So if the link is stating to ask “Why?” in order to get to the heart of the question, then that is a good approach to me.

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta & @blueiiznh I take it the article in the link is aimed primarily at getting each of us to make sure we have the right question in our own mind before proceeding to answer it. Asking myself “Why?” instead of “What?” seemed to me to be a good start to that, but I suspect there is more to it, hence this question.

wundayatta's avatar

Yes. Like I said. There’s a method to this. You have to get back to the original motivating question. You can’t just take the surface question at face value. By asking why they are asking the question, you try to get the person to trace it back to the real motivation for the question. You don’t want to deal with a sub question, and you don’t want to deal with what they think they need until you have satisfied yourself that is what they need.

Unbroken's avatar

I have been told I ask why too much and should simply adjust to it or figure out how to change it. A chronic overthinker among overthinkers.
My usual method of mulling involves going about my life and think about similar things and approach it from several angles. Like talking to black friends and seeing how they view the world has helped shaped and understand my feelings toward the world as a female.
Sometimes I may read of the subject. Look up key words definitions quotes etc.
Also when I really obsessed with a question everything I do is how can I relate it to this topic.
I may poll people who really don’t care. I may read books or articles. Write random thoughts stream of consciousness which often brings more questions to light but helps me better refine a question. And often I dream about it in someway.
Not saying these are good or effective methods. I can easily drive people around me as crazy as I drive myself if I vocalize my thoughts. I’m trying to learn to back burner it to some moderate success.

ninjacolin's avatar

@ETpro, why do you want to know? :P

One of the best parts of my job is asking a client what their long term goals are. Things change at that point in the conversation. They come to me asking for some short term solution but then you hit them with that question and they sit back and start really thinking about what they’re doing. I think we all get a better end result from zooming out this way.

YARNLADY's avatar

There is no such thing a the answer to a question. Every question has multiple answers depending on your attitude and your point of view. Just as every answer spans a whole new set of questions.

Get used to it.

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta Thanks.

@rosehips How do you manage to work your musings into your dreams? Does it come naturally to you, or do you practice lucid dreaming?

@ninjacolin Ha! I’ll have to admit the desire to ask better questions here was part of my motivation. All too often, I just shoot from the hip when framing a question. As answers start to flow it, I realize the thread isn’t going toward what I really wanted to know. If I try to guide answers in a direction inconsistent with the OP, I rightly get skewered for not having asked the right question.

But knowing how to ask the right questions to myself, and how to guide clients to do so, it very important to a Web developer. My goal in that is to build them a site that will come as close as possible to doing what the really want done, but often clients come with must-have lists that are certain to ensure that their site comes nowhere remotely close to doing what the really want done.

@YARNLADY There are lots of questions that have an answer. How much is 1 +1? How much do I weigh right now? How tall is the Washington Monument. Even things we can’t definitively answer right now may have an answer. Did the Universe have a first cause; and if so, what caused that first cause. We may someday figure that out.

Do humans have free will? If we do, then we won’t be able to fully answer questions about human behavior with just one answer. But if we do not, if we live in a Universe that is entirely deterministic; then it should be possibly to derive the one correct answer to any question about individual or collective human behavior. We would simply need to know the rules, then fully understand the initial conditions and the variables impacting those initial conditions.

Unbroken's avatar

@ETpro This is obviously not where you intended this question to go but I appreciate your politeness.
Now I feel compelled to answer because I can’t go to sleep or stop thinking about it.
The dreams I have are often of personal nature some inner battle or something that means something to me in some marked way. I just had a recurrent dream that I couldn’t stop having until I figured out what it meant. I figured it Sunday and haven’t had is since.
I don’t do lucid dreams. Frankly the topic is attractive but more so abhorrent to me. I picked up a few books on the subject but can’t bear to read them.

When I was younger I would go into these waking “stupors” for lack of a better term. I could be reading or listening to music or sitting in the sun. I would experience events, in a very elementary way.. I would see wood grain of a doorpost or chipped paint and glimpses of what was happening around me parts of dialogue. I would miss things too like they were cut out. I wouldn’t understand them and something like a noise or some one would enter the room and i would shake my head and try to rationalize i drifted off but I felt like my eyes were open the entire time.
Push it back to figure out later but the event would happen that day. And I would be in my head noticing the things I remembered like they were burned in my brain and try to figure out what I was supposed to do with this. But i felt incapable of changing them because I didn’t know why I was supposed to change them or what to. It felt like I was being jerked around on puppet strings and that I was also the audience.

Then I spent days trying to alternately rationalize it and figure out what I was supposed to do or what the message or life changing event just happened.

I rationalize it now by saying I at least had met all the people before and there was foreshadowing if I looked at it like a book and dissected the past events for clues. My brain was just predicting.

Yes it sounds crazy and no I was not on drugs. But that is what I equate lucid dreaming as even though I’m pretty sure it has more to do with guided dreaming.

I would much rather live and experience my life changing at this point. Then be subjected to what almost felt like an invasion or a violation of my free will.

Sorry to subject you to that now I think I should be able to go to bed.

YARNLADY's avatar

@ETpro These are some examples of answers to questions in your comment:

1 + 1 can be dose; or 2; or two; or 3 minus 1; or 10 (There are only 10 kind of people in this world, those who know binary and those who don’t)
How much you weigh? Do you want that in pounds, or stone, or newtons; or carats; or for purpose of discussion – more than I do, or did you mean what is your weight in gold?
The height of the Washington Monument in inches or feet or yards or maybe meters, or cubits?

DaphneT's avatar

@YARNLADY nice pic, good answer, a bit metaphilosophical

ETpro's avatar

@rosehips Thanks. Very interesting.

@YARNLADY Let’s not bother talking past each other on this.

@DaphneT Too much so.

blueiiznh's avatar

@ETpro For me it is more of making sure the person that is asking the question has fully thought out what they are really asking. I can certainly answer there question and leave it at that. I however what to ensure that they fully provide all the details to allow me to answer. In my line of work this happens many times a day. If I simply fired off an answer to a question, it may be a correct answer but may be the wrong direction for the big picture. This is why working and thinking collaboratively will provide a better answer than simple serial interactions.
I ask why to get the other person to think about what they are asking.

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