Twenty questions for making things happen

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26 March 2006

About six weeks ago my brain caused my body to write down a list of roughly-categorized questions, all vaguely related to “optimizing my ability to make things happen.” I’ve been sitting on those questions since then, trying to figure out where they came from and what they’re for. I’ve puzzled over it multiple times and not gotten any clue at all.

It’s fairly obvious to me that they all have a theme. They’re all questions about issues that I focus on all the time, and they are all a part of what makes me good at what I do. I just don’t know why I wrote them down.

So I’ve decided to post them here and see if any of you, my dear readers, have any ideas about them. Maybe this is the seed for some grand idea that will change the world someday, and I’ll later come back to here and realize that this was the beginning of it. Or maybe this is just what it seems: a list of questions that will help you focus on the right issues, so you can make things happen.

Here they are:

  • audience: who needs this information, and what for? what are their key issues? who else will eventually use this information?
  • effort: is it worth putting this much effort in, at this point?
  • perception: how will the audience perceive this? what will they think? how will it affect their attitude? what questions will they probably ask?
  • purpose: what is it that I’m trying to accomplish? does what I’m writing accomplish that?
  • core issues: who feels the pain / wants this done / cares about this? are they the ones driving the solution / issue / work? are they getting what they want? is the work that I’m doing going to help resolve the core issues?
  • image: does my audience trust me? how do I get them to trust me more? will this help our trust? do they think they can rely on me? do they think I have their best interests in mind? am I doing work that doesn’t have any value except to my image?
  • understanding: how well do I understand my customer? do I know what is relevant, and what is irrelevant, to the decision/direction/solution I am trying to make?
  • value: what do I bring to the table – why am I needed? does my audience understand that value? am I maximizing that value? am I letting others give their value? am I doing work that doesn’t support me adding that value?
  • listening: does my customer feel like he has been heard? have I made sure to give them time to explain their needs/issues/wants?
  • focus: does what I’m writing solve the core problems? does it also try to solve other problems? is there content that doesn’t lead to solving any particular problem?
  • knowledge: do I know what I don’t know? have I asked for help / more information whenever I needed it? do I have enough information to solve my problem? have I identified which information I need, and which information I don’t need?
  1. Amitai Schlair says:

    These aren’t business-specific questions. They’re the questions that result in optimal answers for How To Do x Well, for arbitrary values of x. Where they came from: your dealings with reality. What they’re for: living well. Life is, after all, that which provides and/or requires all these interesting values of x. :-)

  2. Doug McNulty says:

    This is an excellent set of questions to keep you focused on the task at hand, encompassing all possible variables which could otherwise make you look stupid—to yourself or others, if left unconsidered.

    All successful “start up” businesses either ask and answer these questions, or accidentally offer goods and services satisfying these questions. Governments NEVER ask these questions, and “matured businesses” (American Airlines, Cheesecake Factory, Home Depot, etc) quit asking these question in lieu of prior success.

  3. Nathan Arthur says:

    Doug, that’s a great thought – these are questions that I think would be critical to starting a business. And I agree about the government and matured businesses :)

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