Beautiful Questions, Ugly Logic

firebus's picture

Warren Berger wrote an article about how we could all be more innovative and make oodles of money if we'd only ask more provocative questions.

It looks like this is set to become a fantastically popular business book of some kind.

Looking at both the article, and the site, I had a nagging feeling of emptiness and so I decided to be mean and unpack the article in the least charitable way possible.

"What if someone sold socks that didn’t match?... talks about how that offbeat question was the impetus for the launch of Little Miss Matched, a company whose purposely mismatched socks proved surprisingly popular with young girls."

Okay, see, there's no question here. It's just a business plan with a question mark at the end. Like a jeopardy question, the answer is pretending to interrogate.

And Camper, among others, was there a long time ago, so this is not particularly innovative or status-quo changing.

The logic train here is like:

1. Every innovative new business idea can be expressed as a provocative question
2. Therefore if we ask provocative questions we'll develop innovative new businesses.

I suspect there's a latin term for this failure of logic. Make me a business plan from these provocative questions:

-How come people don't have more sex with corpses?
-What if I just pulled out a gun and killed everyone with dumb hair?
-Why do customer service organizations bother to measure the outcomes of customer interactions?

For every one provocative question that leads to an innovative business idea, there are an infinity of non-monetizable ones. This is not an efficient way to generate good ideas.

Here's the next logical leap:

1. We can express all innovative business ideas as provocative questions
2. People in the business world are often afraid to ask questions
3. If we can get people in the business world to ask questions, then they will start to develop really innovative business ideas

Hmm. I think it's more likely that we'll end up with non-innovative people feeling empowered to waste time in meetings by generating an unending stream of moronic questions. Which is to say that *maybe* there's a correlation/causation problem here.

What if it's the case that innovative people ask a lot of questions and everyone else should just shut up because they have nothing good to say? In that case, we should be working on fostering innovative thinking and using questioning as a measure of success, not the other way around.

If you want me to believe that working with people to get over their fear of questioning is going to make them more innovative, you'll actually have to conduct some experiments and measure something meaningful.

But I don't think that's going to happen - instead I suspect we're going to get a 40 page book in which the same 5 pages of unsupported and poorly-reasoned assertions are repeated 8 different ways. This is not an innovative new business idea (but rather an old faithful idea that still works great!)


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