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  April 15, 2011
Questions and Answers


As competition intensifies; the need for creative thinking increases.  It is no longer enough to do the same thing better...no longer enough to be efficient and solve problems" - Edward de Bono

I was driving down the freeway the other day.  As I looked at all the cars passing me on both sides at a high rate of speed (I typically drive close to the speed limit so it must appear as though I’m almost parked to other cars), I thought to myself that the only way I can tell one car make from another was to look at the logo on the back.  Every vehicle seemed nearly undistinguishable from another.

There must be some new edict from the Department of Transportation that reads that only 3-4 body templates can be used when manufacturing vehicles.  I guess being the same has now taken precedent over being different.  Safe versus extraordinary...

Creativity has two basic components - Inspiration and Innovation. 
Inspiration is coming up with new ideas... Innovation is doing new things.  Both are equally important and both are equally difficult.
Creativity is the ability to see what is not there...and making it a reality.  It is the ability to ask the right questions.

One of the most important life lessons I ever learned came from Dr. Wilson, an engineering professor of mine back in college (and later a trusted mentor).  I remember vividly sitting in his class one day, in a complete fog as to the topic he was discussing before the class.  I recall raising my hand to ask him a question.

When he called on me, bashfully I said, "Professor Wilson...I am so lost...I can’t even formulate a competent question to ask".
At that point he stopped his entire lecture about Boolean algebra (or some other mundane topic) and spent the remaining class time on the subject of formulating quality questions.  Dr. Wilson took the time to explain to us that day that anybody can be hired to solve difficult problems but the power lies in asking the difficult questions.  The key to the creativity vault was in developing quality questions not answers.
If inspiration comes from asking the right questions...innovation comes from doing the right things...

Another great life lesson was taught to me many years ago by a friend and long-time senior manager at AT&T (since retired).  He explained to me that whenever a large undertaking was being considered by AT&T they would ask themselves three important questions: 

·        Why do it at all?
·        Why do it this way?
·        Why do it at this time?

Bell Labs (a division of AT&T at the time) is one of this country’s greatest private innovation centers.  They helped to create the first transistor in 1947, created and installed the first cell phone technology in Chicago in 1970, and demonstrated usable facsimile technology as early as 1929.  They developed and created DSL, touch tone telephones, the first laser beam, digital signal processing (DSP), Unix and C programming languages, and launched the first communication satellite (Telstar I) in 1962.  

Whatever they did...they wanted to do it right.  Bell Labs embodies the concept of innovation like no other company (yes...including Apple)...they are idea people...they ask a lot of the right questions...they create, develop and innovate.

I need to confess that I’m truly worried about the generations that will soon be graduating from our schools and universities.  Today we are teaching our children to take tests (some kids are now starting to study for the SAT test in the 8th grade!!...this is just wrong in my opinion). 

We have all but eliminated the creative outlets in the schools:  art, music, woodshop, and industrial arts and replaced those subjects with more math and science.   

Perhaps we should stop trying to teach our children how to be better computers, memorizers, and serial processors.  Rather we should be teaching them to be better thinkers...better at asking quality questions...better at being creative...better at trying to change the world and making it a truly better place to live...

Any skilled artist could be hired to reproduce the Mona Lisa...maybe even better than Leonardo Di Vinci himself...but Di Vinci was the one with the idea...he’s the one who changed the world forever...
Perhaps we should be asking questions to ourselves...do we want a technician or do we want an artist? 

There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask "why?".  I dream of things that never were and ask "why not?" - Robert Kennedy

Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we believe that asking right questions means more than having the right answer...

Jim Kalb

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