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How Questions Influence Pathways to Solutions

Published 6/10/2020

In today's episode we're talking about problems and how we involve questions into our day-to-day tasks as developers. 

We'll cover question framing techniques and practices to boost collaboration with your co-workers on problem solving.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
When you're solving difficult problems, the questions that you ask, whether it's of yourself or of others, they help define the path that you take towards a solution. And in many ways, they are what leads you to the solution. In today's episode, we're going to talk about how you can shape that path more intentionally. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea and my goal on this show is to help driven developers find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. So when you are solving a problem, and for the sake of this episode, we're talking about problems of all sizes from the smallest problem in your engineering work to the largest product problem and beyond. Career-level problems. Things like, where should I work or what kind of title do I want or even, where do I want to live? These kinds of problems, their personal problems, but they're intertwined with our work lives, and they matter deeply to our reasoning and to how we actually practice our engineering work. So I want to dive into how these questions can shape that path. And I want to do this by talking about each type of question that we can ask and describe the types of answers that we are predetermining by asking that question. Think about this. When you ask a specific question, there are only so many logical answers that you can provide, unless, of course, you refuse to answer the question in the form that it's provided. So let's say, for example, that your question begins with the word R. Are we sure this is the right way to go? This predetermines a binary response, or at the very least, a response that falls between a yes and a no. Your answer might be, I'm not sure, or most of the way or most of the way not. But ultimately, you're creating a polarized response, kind of continuum there. When solving a problem, we often start with the question, what? What is the problem? Or what are we going to do about this problem? The interesting thing about the second form that I just mentioned, what are we going to do about this problem, is that we assume that we know everything about the problem to begin with. Additionally, we assume that we need to do something about the problem. We might want to back up and ask the question, why does this problem exist? Or how can we see this problem differently? What are the features of this problem? Or what do we not understand about the problem? But perhaps the most underutilized question that we should be asking more often is, do we really need to solve this problem? We're going to take a quick break, and then we're going to come back and talk about how these questions can chain together to result in different novel solutions to the same kinds of problems. Today's episode is sponsored by Zbrand. Zbrand helps you launch a product with minimum visual brand design resources. You can do this without internal designers, costly agencies, or questionable freelancers. With Zbrand, you can launch your product without investing too much time or money on branding, which means your team can give 100% of their focus to product development. By asking some simple questions about your product, AI-based Zbrand algorithms create a uniquely tailored brand toolkit full of branding and marketing essentials, including fonts, color palettes, pitch deck templates, and much more. Which by the way, your product team can turn around and integrate those directly into your product. Zbrand is easy to use and it's free to get started, and setting up your brand only takes five minutes. You'll have instant access to your assets to start showcasing your product today. It's zbranding.com. That's zebranding.com. Thanks again to Zbrand for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Also a quick reminder on June 18th through the 19th. This is coming up very soon, by the way. You want to go and check out JS Nation Live. This is happening once again on June 18th through the 19th. You can sign up for free, totally free, head over to live.jsnation.com. You can see teachers and instructors that are building the JavaScript world, head over to live.jsnation.com to register today for free. Let's get back into talking about how your questions can shape your solutions. The question shape so much about our conversations and conversations are ultimately what lead us down various pathways of collaboration and action. So I want you to imagine a chain of questions that might result in a different outcome. You've probably heard, if you've been listening to this podcast or other similar podcasts, you may have heard of the five whys. We've talked about it a few times on this show, and this comes from, at least in popular culture, this comes from Toyota. Toyota has this habit of asking why until you get to a root. In their case, typically it's a root cause of a particular problem. So why is something happening? You ask that why as you continue to uncover higher levels of abstraction. So you can imagine starting a problem with some kind of statement will use the classic one. I'd like to travel from one place to another faster. If you start by asking the question, how, you're very likely to iterate on whatever solution you already have. You're likely to try to increase a particular feature factor or some kind of capability of something that already exists. But if you abstract away from the problem, if you ask the question, why, you could end up at many different solutions to the problem. For example, if your answer is to save time, then I might ask the question, what are the other ways that you might save time? Perhaps the answer isn't faster travel, but maybe autonomous travel. If your answer to the question is, well, I'd like to get into work earlier. Perhaps we should take travel out of the equation entirely. Maybe you can work from home or maybe we do genuinely find that we should increase the speed at which we can travel. And in order to do that, we change the form of travel altogether. But you can see that the different types of questions that we ask can lean us to different solutions. And so the questions themselves kind of come preformed for you. And you should practice asking various types of questions in given circumstances. Sometimes asking why or trying to abstract the problem further is a waste of energy or it's not necessarily practical, it's not going to serve your actual goals. So sometimes if you have a personality like mine where you want to jump straight to the abstract problems, it might help to force yourself to ask the question, what more often or how? How can we solve this problem now or what do we need to do today? These are ways of moving from the abstract back towards the more concrete, the more actionable items that you can address. Other questions can provide different lenses on a given problem. For example, when you add a time frame to the problem, let's say that you had a problem that you could spend six months solving to perfection or you might instead view it from a time frame lens of three weeks. Of course, this changes the solution. You're not going to get the same work that you would get done in six months, done in three weeks. And so the solution to the problem and the level of abstraction that you might want to go to, those things might be framed by the question when I encourage you to look into how these questions can frame your pathway to solutions in all types of problems and play around with this. Imagine a problem that you are facing or even in retrospect, look back at a problem that you've solved recently, and imagine if you had asked different questions along the way. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea, another huge shout out to Zbrand for sponsoring today's episode, head over to zbranding.com to get started in as little as five minutes. Thanks again also to js nation head over to live.js nation.com to register for free today for the js nation live, which is happening on June 18 through 19. That's live.js nation.com. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. This episode was produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.