April 2007

There is a (probably) apocryphal story about a guy trying to solve a problem and then almost giving up in a storm of doubt over their ability. On consideration of the fact that they had a doctorate in rocket science, it occurs to them that maybe that maybe they are not stupid but rather that the problem is naturally hard.


I didn’t think that I’d get much chance to read on holiday but The Andaman hotel in Langkawi was extremely kid friendly which meant we got all the time we wanted to read - which meant that I didn;t bring enough books. The Shadow Of The Wind was good but, I feel, a tad over-rated. The translation was a bit patronising and removed some of the feel of old Barcelona which was probably there in the original language,. The Interpretation Of Murder likewise good but probably not over-rated- fulfilled its objective of intelligent thriller very neatly. The Tenderness of Wolves moves very slowly covering its ground at its own pace building up a very cogent atmosphere of frontier Canada. The Elegant Solution, a book about Toyota, was a page-turner!


There is a great deal to write about this book and in some way this blog now starts to read as a quest from zero toward many of the principles and ideas in this book: so for me this turned out to be more of a conformational read rather than an educational read. One of the themes at the heart of the book is about questions and questioning.

I ask questions. The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything - Milan Kundera

So we spend our lives learning all the right answers - the ones we’re being spoon-fed - instead of chasing the right questions. Then we sit back and ask why we don’t get any smarter - Matthew E. May (author of The Elegant Solution)


Extrapolating from this: the right questions are far more important than the right answers. It is from there only a small leap to say that the answers are indeed not important at all if you have the right questions: the improvement process is a continuous journey in pursuit of an understanding of the question. Indeed, in a Zen manner, there may in fact be no answer but the transformation itself comes from the deep consideration of the question.


Which brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to where we started. There is a third reason that someone may be unable to answer a question or solve a problem and that is that the question is flawed, inappropriate or the wrong question. “Have you stop beating your wife?”, for example. The question is hard because both the normal answers, yes and no, are not appropriate. Mu : unask the question.


When solving a problem or answering a question we try and do two things which is to answer the question or solve the problem within a context or framework. When all the solutions we can come up with contradict the context or framework the problem seems hard, maybe we are stupid. Equally, though, on the assumption that the context is correct the question itself may be wrong. Mu: unask the question.