The World Needs Less Answers And More Questions

The world has a surplus of answers, and a shortage of questions.

Now, you might be thinking that “random” question asking, as Google search histories can attest, is surely a commodity. After all, the cost of asking a question is now effectively zero. How much effort does it take to say, “Siri/Alexa, what restaurants are near me?” We must have a million questions with a million answers, right?

Actually, for every question, we have (for just that question above as an example) 23.7 million answers. The ratio is just a bit lopsided.

Our search for better answers therefore starts with better questions. Good questions and the people that are good at asking them are in extra-short supply.

Cal Fussman told James Altucher (on James’ podcast), “When you think about it, there was no Google back then. Now, just about any question you have, you could put it into Google, or Quora, and you’re gonna get an answer. So, if you’re looking at the laws of supply and demand, the supply of the answers is filled. We got answers up the ‘gazoo. But how many great questions do we have? How many people who ask great questions do we have? There’s much more demand for that.”

Consider “fake news.” Something being patently false is still an answer! It’s Calvin’s (as in Calvin and Hobbes) dad telling him that wind comes from the trees sneezing. The only way to get around uncovering how false something actually is, is to have better questions. You have to falsify it as Karl Popper would say. “Fake news” needs good people asking good questions as much as you need to figure out what kind of food you are hungry for from that list of 27 million options.

Therefore, a key component of the falsification process is that A. anything that matters should be able to be proven false by some criteria (if trees are sneezing, then they must also breathe) and B. you get to ask more questions (so where are their lungs? Is there wind in the desert? In the ocean?).

Good questions mean we are asking, “Compared to what?” and “is that baseline assumption stationary or moving?” Do trees sneeze like humans? Where else does the wind come from? Why are some days windier than others?

Good questions are our only path to better answers.

Look around you, see the surplus of answers that can be delivered with the help of your smart phone, and tell me – what questions do I have to ask to reduce the 27 million to 1 ratio to something more useful? If you learn that craft, to James’ observation of Cal’s skills, that’s a real superpower. The opportunity is not in having better answers, it’s in having better questions.

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