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The Answer is 42 – What Was The Question?

Sometimes the answer is not a response to the question, but in finding the right question to ask.

In a previous post, which included my answer to what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Adams, called “The Ultimate Question of Life the Universe and Everything,” I mentioned that we’d be revisiting the question, and the answer.

Over the course of his series of novels, Adams takes us on a hilarious journey with his unlikely hero, Arthur Dent. Dent is a survivor of the planet Earth which, we learn, was actually built as a complex computer to discover the Ultimate Question. Another computer, Deep Thought, had been built to determine the Ultimate Answer, and after seven and a half million years had reached a conclusion.

The Ultimate Answer, Deep Thought said, was 42.

When the beings who had set about to learn the answer protested that they didn’t know what it meant, they were told it was because they didn’t understand the QUESTION.

Earth was then designed to uncover to Ultimate Question, but before a conclusion could be drawn, the Earth was destroyed by Vogons. The beings seeking this Ultimate Question and Answer, which look exactly like creatures we know as mice, decide they don’t want to wait another eight million years and settle on an arbitrary question; “How many roads must a man walk down?”

So now we know that a man must walk down 42 roads – but we still don’t know which roads, or where he’ll end up.

As farcical as this may seem, (and as Adams no doubt meant it to be) it illustrates one of the greatest fallacies we ever buy into.

That fallacy is the idea that someone else’s answer is a solution for our problem.

I have had clients who just wanted answers. They wanted someone to tell them what to do: which of the 42 roads to walk down next. They wanted to use someone else’s magic wand to magically solve their own problems.

Certainly, I could give them answers. And they would be the right answers to some questions. But they may not be the right answers to the client’s questions.

In order to arrive at answers that are meaningful and applicable, we have to be asking the right questions.¬†That’s why my process always begins with coaching (the questioning phase) even when I will be doing business consulting (the recommendation and answer phase.)

It might be an extreme example, but in my previous post I said “sometimes love is the only sensible response.”

That answer is true for me, it answers the questions I was asking at the time. (And I’ll be writing more about the questions I was asking and why that answer is so powerful and not at all extreme for me.)

But unless you know your own question, “love” might have as much meaning as “42.” Because without the Ultimate Question, you won’t know how to APPLY the Ultimate Answer, rendering the whole exercise as futile (and a lot less amusing) as Adam’s story.

Right now, many of us are  examining both life and business, gearing up for 2012.

I hope that before you look for answers, you’ll take the time to ask the meaningful questions. The results might be surprising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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