Better Questions

I was in St. Louis yesterday and had the wonderful chance to catch up with a friend I hadn’t talked to in close to twenty years. She is a physical therapist and teaches at Washington University.

Our wide ranging discussion over coffee lead us to how some people are constrained by what life offers and other always look for what is possible. Professionally, that means hanging on tightly to our beliefs, whether professional, educational, or institutional versus keeping an open mind to what is possible.

My friend described the colleague she most like working with–a doctor who had no problem admitting when she didn’t know the answer and always welcomed input in diagnosis and treatment of patients. It’s the way the doctor collaborated that really struck me. Her questions matched almost perfectly the ones Matt Thompson believes we need to answer if we are to improve journalism.

Thompson says the news is really about telling what happened today, what is the new. Most doctors start by asking the same thing, “What is going on today?”

What’s missing from the news story (or the doctor’s questioning) is three things:

  1. The longstanding facts – Has this happened before?
  2. How do they know what they know? – My sources of information were…
  3. What things don’t we know? – We don’t have good explanations for…

While not explicitly following these rules, this is what the doctors go through on every episode of House.

I have been thinking about these questions as I proceed with my new projects. They seem like a good place to start with any new problem that you are trying to solve. The questions test your assumptions and through simple rigor open up the possibilities for your conclusion.

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