A Smart Question Never Asked

If you hear the term “winter fun” you might think of ski slopes and snowball fights.  For me, I prefer the beach.  No crowds, no kids dusting your towel with sand, and no barrage of seagulls stealing your snacks because the person next to you tossed out their chili cheese fries like it’s a petting zoo.  Sure it’s too cold to swim, but the vistas are all mine, the shoreline can be scavenged at will for all manner of treasures and the golden winter sunlight can’t be rivaled.

I remember Memorial Day weekend growing up in Rhode Island.  For some reason, we thought this was a good day for an annual trip to the beach.  It wasn’t – but I didn’t know that as a kid.  I thought a beach was supposed to be crowded, that you were supposed to sit in traffic for hours, that you were supposed to wait in long lines for food or to use the restroom.  I never asked the smart question, “Why are we doing this on the busiest day of the year?”

Guess what just passed?  Memorial Day Weekend.  I live five miles from the ocean and visit year round.  I didn’t think much of it.  Seemed like just another good day for me to walk the dog.  Somehow I overlooked the fact that this holiday would bring out all the beach bums.

Roughly three miles into the walk my dog quit.  She had enough of the sun, got a drink from the doggy fountain and plopped onto the sand beneath the pier – the one spot that nobody occupies due to the foul smell and lack of sunshine.

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Not two minutes pass by before a cop drives up to me, delivers a dirty look and states, “You can’t have your dog on the beach.”  Was I disappointed that the officer could not see the forest through the trees?  Of course!  He failed to ask the smart question.

Obviously, it wasn’t my choice to stand in the most inconvenient location beneath the pier.  Obviously, my dog was preventing heat exhaustion.  Obviously, nobody would ever use that section of beach.  But the officer was simply doing his job.  He waited for me to pick my dog up and place her back on the sun-baked pavement.  If it was winter time (or any other time of year) I would never have this problem.  The cops come out when the crowds come out.

APPLICATION:  My life is best lived when I abide by strict boundaries.  It makes me happy when I don’t have to rethink my decisions or compromise my standards.  My life is most enriched when I protect my goals the way this cop protected the beach.  He never had to ask the “smart question” because he had a job to do.

THE CHALLENGE:  If you intend to make a difference in this world, you also have a job to do.  Avoid asking questions that compromise the integrity of your decisions.  Get your dang “dog” off the beach!  You know it shouldn’t be there in the first place.  Perhaps the only smart question to ask right now is, “How can I be more like that cop?”  At the end of the day, excuses don’t alter performance.  When something creeps in on your goals and tries to steal your attention, give it a dirty look and wait for it to “get back on the pavement.”

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

New Questions for Old Shoes

An old pair of sneakers were discarded in a small wastebasket at work.  Anytime someone popped their head around the cubicle they’d ask my neighbor, “You’re throwing your shoes away?”  The question pickpocketed productivity since it only had one (glaringly obvious) answer.  I was reminded of how BAD we are at asking questions and connecting socially.

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The intent, I understand.  We use the first accessible variant as a “way in”.  We want to break the ice with questions about a black eye, hickie, cast, flat tire, divorce etc.  There is nothing wrong with using the obvious bridge to cross the moat…except for the fact that our abundantly hollow question may be agonizingly unpleasant to the recipient.  “Hey, you broke your arm?”  “How’d you get that black eye?”  “I heard you are pregnant?”

THE CHALLENGE:  If you ever feel the need to question the obvious as a means of kindling a conversation, try to come up with a new angle.  Instead of, “You’re throwing your shoes away?”  You might consider something like:

(1) What was the best adventure you’ve ever had in these shoes?
(2) How many pairs of shoes do you own?  What do you think the average is for most people in America?
(3) Tell me about the day you purchased those sneakers?  How much did you pay?  Was there an alternate brand or style?  What was the deciding factor?
(4) How much would you give me if I can sell these on eBay?
(5) If these shoes could talk, what would they say?

You get the idea.  Putting a twist on the “obvious question” demonstrates that you are unlike the previous 99 people who just asked the same exact thing.  This practice will lead to more meaningful conversations and rich relationships.

For more ideas about asking the right questions, you might enjoy this post.

Photo by Tom

Have You Found Waldo Yet?

In a recent post, I wrote about how quick we are to give up on riddles.  You can check it out here.  Let’s take another look at this, maybe from a different angle.

Think of someone who has what you want.  It can be a talent, skill, wealth, knowledge, travel, charisma etc.  Let’s presume you approach this person and ask them for their entire blueprint to success by saying, “Hey – I want what you have and I’m here for the taking.  I want it all!”  What type of response would you get?  You might get a handshake, or you might get a smack in the face.  What you WON’T get is 100% of the knowledge (at least not right away).  In fact, it doesn’t matter how you approach them – there is no shortcut to experience.

Thankfully, most people are willing to share at least a little SOMETHING.  Which brings me to today’s point.  Find Waldo.

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Just like riddles, Waldo can be a royal pain in the butt.  You have to scan the page deliberately.  No being lazy.  No shortcuts.  As a child what did you do?  What do most children do?

ANSWER: “Mom, Dad…I can’t find Waldo.  Can you give me a hint?”

For kids, this works for everything.  They understand you won’t tell them what Santa Clause is bringing (not without a fight anyway).  So, they just ask for a hint.

They know you won’t solve their homework problem, so they ask for a hint.

You won’t tell them the surprise movie you have in store, so they ask for a hint.

If they can’t “solve the riddle” with a big hint, they’ll ask for a smaller one.  If that information is too obscure, they’ll ask for another hint, and another, and another.


THE CHALLENGE:  Be a kid again.  Ask for a hint.  Don’t be annoying, but don’t give up on something that came so naturally to you as a youngster.  Maybe you’d like to remember someone’s name, do a little work for it, ask them for a hint.

Perhaps you want a raise, maybe you can ask something like, “I would like to put myself in a position to get a raise next quarter.  Can you give me a hint as to how I can achieve this?”

Maybe you’re mad at God or simply impatient, instead of asking for the crystal ball try asking for a hint.

Asking for hints is a great nonconfrontational approach to reach others and will give you great leverage when used properly.  Now go find YOUR Waldo!