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Formulating Questions.

The Way of Systems

Formulating Questions

The character of the questions we ask greatly influences the appropriateness of the answers we develop. If we ask short sighted questions should we be surprised if we develop short sighted answers? I would think not.

The following diagram provides a perspective on the relation of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. As we describe situations and seek understanding further up this path we develop a foundation for subsequently more effective actions. Actions which are more likely to produce the desired results, and less likely to simply create more problems to be solved.

To improve the character of the questions we ask it is important to transcend the levels in the above diagram. If we ask questions that allow data to be an answer that is what we will get. If we ask questions regarding relations, i.e. cause and effect, then we will find, or make up, causes as answers to the questions we pose. When we finally reach the level of asking questions that cause us to seek out and understand the patterns responsible for the situations we consider we finally arrive at answers that represent knowledge. Finally when we ask questions which cause us to seek the underlying fundamental principles that are responsible for the patterns represented in the knowledge we are finally in a position to develop answers that represent wisdom.

How you ask questions is a choice. Make of it what you will.

As such, when posing questions think about the manner in which the situation has developed over time. Think about the relationships between the components that make up the situation, and how have these relationships developed over time. Consider the following as two alternative perspectives on the same situation.

  1. Sales are down.

  2. As monthly sales volumes were somewhat less than desirable a rebate program was implemented. The rebate program seemed to work as shortly after its implementation sales began to increase. When sales reached an acceptable level the rebate program was discontinued. After some time sales began to decline again. Another rebate program was implemented but did not seem to have the same level of effect on sales as the previous program. With higher levels of rebate sales were returned to an acceptable level. Now that the rebate program has been stopped sales are again down and we're uncertain as to whether implementing another rebate program is an appropriate action.

Items 1 and 2 both describe the same current state, "Sales are down." In an attempt to determine an appropriate course of action for the future, which set of information do you think provides you with the best starting point from which to develop an answer? The answer to this question should be rather obvious.

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