One common mis-perception of VCs is that our life is fundamentally about finding answers. This is wrong; our job is/should be about finding the right questions. Einstein once said:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask. For if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.”
People watch Shark Tank and they see a Socratic Q&A where the panel of investors pushes hard against entrepreneurs for answers but the answers themselves are pretty limited things. They are concrete, fixed in a time and a place and easy to manipulate. Answers mark the end of a line of inquiry and are a roadblock to imagination. I’ve seen enough deals that any answer an entrepreneur gives in a pitch will be one that I’ve heard before. Rather than focusing on answers, I think there is a great deal to be gained by focusing on questions. Not on the questions vcs ask the entrepreneurs but on the questions they ask themselves. More than anything, the questions we ask ourselves are windows unto our soul. They shine a light on the things we think about as well as how we think about them. The value of this information to a seed stage investor cannot be overstated. If an investor knew the questions an entrepreneur asks themselves and could tap into the inner dialogue of the entrepreneur, the investor could gain months worth of insight in short order. It is the Pareto principle applied to diligence. It is no accident Google is one of the top three most valuable companies in the world. Google has direct access to the question stream of billions of people.
To test out the thesis that a question stream provides valuable insight I recently took two weeks in the middle of January and decided to try and log every substantive question that occurred to me. The following list of questions is what I produced.
1. Is fitness epigenetic?
2. Is ginger an appetite suppressant?
3. What is the most socially damaging way to legally spend $1B?
4. What is the historical horse population in the U.S.?
5. How do underwater submarines refill air tanks? Electrolysis?
6. What happened to my Erik Kent and Cartograph fall wine allocations?
7. How is X company (we passed on) doing?
8. How many pedestrians are killed on the Vegas Strip each year?
9. Would Bernie Sanders be the first Jewish president?
10. What are some home remedies for a kids earache?
11. What are the colors for each rank of the Court of Master Sommeliers?
12. Who owns Rn74
13. What is a two-piece Ah So called? Why is it designed that way?
14. What is the result when you divide by zero? Theories/writing?
15. What is the definition of “Hot Take”
16. What is orca ice tipping?
17. What are the odds of receiving 5 aces in pai gow?
18. What accidents have there been with nuclear submarines?
19. What exactly is a tail strike and how common are they?
20. When does “Who is Mr. Robot” return to TV?
21. What is the best order in which to read the Star Wars books?
22. If Americans were a healthy weight on average how much more efficient would cars be? How much fuel/co2 would be saved?
23. What is the inventory turnover rate at junkyards?
24. What is the cost of traffic accidents to healthcare in the U.S.?
25. How frequently are people born with extra fingers?
26. What is the average cost of acne treatment?
27. What interest rate will the IRS currently accept on convertible notes?
28. What is a pepino melon and how do I eat it?
29. What is the tree of death?
30. What is the average ocean depth?
31. What is the story behind the robot the Russians sent to the moon?
32. Is there a term for googling yourself?
33. How many swing voters are there in the US?
34. How many swing voters are there specifically in the states that can go either red or blue?
35. How much would it cost to make Social Security Solvent for the foreseeable future?
36. How big is the U.S. budget for infrastructure?
37. How big is NASA’s budget? The NSF’s budget?
38. What is the T4M model Jason Lemkin is always talking about?
39. What is the slang word for tweet “twete” used for?
40. What are toreador pants?
41. What is the image on the cover of the “Dirty Minds” record? Is it a trick image?
42. Who were the investors in Booster Fuels?
43. What is the etymology of the word “sport”?
44. Was delayed gratification / the ability to play the long game one of the seven habits of highly successful people?
45. How do I find bibliogram data?
46. What is a threnody?
47. When do rattlesnakes hibernate? Wake up from hibernation?
48. What is DOMS?
49. How many acres of grapes are planted in the U.S. and the rest of the world?
50. What is Vattels’ definition of a natural born citizen?
51. Why do I like spicy foods, what is the mechanism?
If you read through this list you get a fantastic snapshot of the way I think and what I was thinking about over these two weeks. The themes you can probably tease out are wine, a trip to Las Vegas, my daughter’s ear ache, a few questions raised by books I was reading, the election, a diet and exercise regime, an article I was researching as well as some more eclectic random inquiries. The question stream might not be enough for you to know who I “really” am but I guarantee, it is a better indicator than any regular 1-hour conversation.
Real Life Application
Practically speaking turning the question stream, which functions well as a tool for retrospection, into something that works for inspection is not straightforward. Most people do not keep question logs and very few would be willing to share their search histories (even if edited to be sfw). Question logs aren’t necessary however, what is necessary is finding a way to supercharge your insight into another person. There are a couple tactics that can be derived from this insight and from the tried and true venture capital practices.
Focus on the Entrepreneur not the Business: In an initial meeting or phone conversation between the seed investor and the entrepreneur the business substance should be the focus. After all, both the entrepreneur and the investor need to know if the company even fits into the investor’s focus. However, once the basics are out of the way and both parties have some interest in investing time into deciding whether to pursue a relationship, the focus should be on who the entrepreneur is as a person. This second or third meeting, whatever it is, should be about how the entrepreneur thinks about what they think. Basically this conversation should cover exactly what an HR manager would not want you to cover. Talk about politics, religion, family, the singularity, the implications of gravitational waves, what the world will be like if life spans are measured in centuries, the last 5 books each person has read, the desirability of a guaranteed minimum income and anything else the entrepreneur thinks about when they aren’t building their product.
Embedded VC: Seed stage VCs can take a lesson from wartime journalists. Once both parties have decided that an investment is theoretically a fit, the investor and entrepreneur should find a way to work together for a period of weeks or months. There is no better way to gain insight into a person than by working side by side with them. See how the founder responds to adversity, observe their management style and watch a sales process. Without getting access to someone’s internal question stream there is no better way to learn about how they think. This process has major advantages for the entrepreneur as well. The founder gets to learn what it is like to work with the VC. Equally important for the founder is that the investor will know so much more about their business and team that they may actually be able to deliver the tangible value all VCs hope to deliver. The relationship building that goes on in this process shouldn’t hurt the founder’s chances of a follow-on investment either.
These tactics are exceptionally time consuming. They are not easy or comfortable and they are not for everyone but they are 100% worth the investment. If investors and entrepreneurs invest this much effort in getting to know one another up front, the worst thing that happens is each walks away with a close relationship that may develop into something more in the future. On the flip side when magic happens and these tactics lead to an investment the chances of success are substantially higher and the working relationship between the investor and the entrepreneur will be worlds better.
We ask questions in order to learn more information about something, and we answer questions to provide more information. Asking and answering questions is not only a part of how we learn, but it is also a part of our social skills; we ask and answer questions to be polite and build and maintain relationships.Who says that question is more important than answer? ›
According to the ideas of Socrates as passed down to us by Plato, it is only through continual questioning and refinement of our ideas and thoughts in discussion with others that we discover the true nature of what we truly value and hold dear.Why is it important to ask questions better? ›
The research shows that asking more questions builds emotional intelligence, lending to better soft skills - key in leadership at work and interpersonal relationship building. Asking questions is an effective way to better communicate and connect with others. “Curiosity for me has helped me make sense of the world.What does more questions than answers mean? ›
I think, if there were some mystery or unsolved Problem, and somebody gave some "unsatisfactory" explanation, then we could claim "this [just] creates more questions than answers", implying that the explanation is not sufficient or not complete; we might be better off without this explanation.What is the value of questioning? ›
Asking questions not only widens your knowledge but also motivates you to learn more. It has a far-reaching effect on our mindset. You'll not only learn the academic part but also give yourself some space to explore and learn the smallest of the smallest natural phenomenon.How does asking questions lead to knowledge? ›
Asking questions mean that a person is creative and has an open mind. It leads to new knowledge. Obviously once we question, we need to know the answer, then naturally after getting the answer, we lead to more questions and so on. These lead us to the ideas that we haven't explored.What did Albert Einstein say about questions? ›
It is also the birthday of Albert Einstein, who said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”Why is asking questions important in Philosophy? ›
Philosophical questions are a great way to improve important thinking skills like reasoning and logic. As philosophical questions don't always have answers, sometimes they just create further questions! But these questions are an important way for us to understand ourselves and the world around us.Are questions better than answers? ›
Briefly put, questions are more important than answers because questions seek to understand–to clarify and frame and evaluate while answers, at their best, are temporary responses whose relative quality can decay over time, needing to be reformed and remade and reevaluated as the world itself changes.Is it good to ask too many questions? ›
Meanwhile, asking too many questions makes you seem self-centered (i.e. you like to hear yourself talk). Or even worse, you're high-maintenance and require tons attention to do your job. Time is money. Companies pay you to get results, not waste their day asking questions you should be able to figure out for yourself.
Students who correctly answer more difficult questions may learn more from rising to the challenge, but questions that offer too many plausible answers can have a negative effect on both learning and assessment. Use the Goldilocks principle: not too many, or too few.What is the power of questioning? ›
Good questions are the key to better insights. Questions allow you to asses your understanding as well as others. Identifying gaps in your knowledge is the first step to filling them. We can learn a lot, often more, from the work involved in answering a question than from the answer itself.What benefits can you get from questioning? ›
- Questioning everything helps to understand the world round us and Why we do what we do? ...
- In general, people and societies know what they do and some are aware of How things are done but many of them ignore why they do what they do; that, in the end, has an impact on the outcomes.
Good questions can: Motivate student learning and fuel curiosity. Foster intellectual development and stimulate critical thinking. Assess student understanding.What are the 5 reason to ask questions? ›
- To acquire knowledge.
- To eliminate confusion.
- To cause someone else to feel special/important.
- To guide a conversation in the direction we want it to go.
- To demonstrate humility to another.
By using the right questions in a particular situation, you can improve a whole range of communications skills. For example, you can gather better information and learn more, you can build stronger relationships, manage people more effectively, and help others to learn too.Why is it important to ask questions when problem solving? ›
Asking the right question will help you find your way through a problem, locate the right customers, avoid future difficulties, and outperform your competitors. Questions also act as a filter that will help you decipher the key elements of a situation.Is questioning a good way of learning? ›
Effective self-questioning can improve students' awareness and control of their thinking, which in turn can improve their learning. It can improve long-term retention of knowledge and skills, as well as the ability of students to apply and transfer the knowledge and skills they learn.What does the important thing is not to stop questioning mean? ›
Never stop questioning and learning￼ Albert Einstein said “the important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing”. We never stop learning, we always have the capacity to learn newer and better ways of doing things, responding to things, and of existing with others in the world.When did Einstein say the important thing is not to stop questioning? ›
--from My Future Plans, September 18, 1896. CPAE, Vol 1., Doc. 22. "The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.
They are driven by doubt, curiosity and wonderment. It is our questions that fuel and drive our thinking. Many problems arise from making assumptions. If you assume, you think you know when you probably don't.Why are the most powerful questions? ›
“Why” Demonstrates Honest Curiosity
There's no single question in the world that better represents curiosity than “Why?” When a toddler learns to ask the question, the world opens up to them. “Why” represents the wonder of the unknown, the interest in finding it out, and an openness to new ideas.
Being able to ask questions when things are unclear is a strength, not a weakness.What is the difference between a question and an answer? ›
Questions carry a question mark, answers do not, one could say. However, spoken language does not carry punctuation signs, although a spoken question usually has a different speech melody than its answer. But, there could be even simple, unstructured signs, which have the character of questions or answers.What is a person called who asks too many questions? ›
inquisitive. adjective. asking a lot of questions about things, especially things that people do not want to talk about.What disorder is asking the same question over and over? ›
Alzheimer's disease and other dementias cause problems with short-term memory. This can lead to repetitive behaviors, like asking the same question or repeating the same things over and over, which can be a major source of stress for family caregivers.What to say to someone who asks too many questions? ›
Mention that you notice that he has many questions, and you would like to find a way to help him be more self-sufficient. Don't be overly critical about the amount of questions he asks – you don't want to be so harsh that he feels uncomfortable asking important questions in the future.What is the power of the question why? ›
Asking why helps kids explore and make sense of their world. Each time they ask this question, they may be learning something new, like a new word, a new skill, or a new perspective. Sometimes, their questions make us laugh. Sometimes, they make us cry.Are questions that require more than a yes or no answer? ›
Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no', and instead require the respondent to elaborate on their points. Open-ended questions help you see things from a customer's perspective as you get feedback in their own words instead of stock answers.Which philosopher uses the question and answer method? ›
Developed by the Greek philosopher, Socrates, the Socratic Method is a dialogue between teacher and students, instigated by the continual probing questions of the teacher, in a concerted effort to explore the underlying beliefs that shape the students views and opinions.
Socrates thought that we should question absolutely everything and not rest until we know our beliefs lie on a secure foundation. In this class, we'll consider Socrates' approach to the good life.Which philosopher answered a question with a question? ›
Socratic questioning (or Socratic maieutics) was named after Socrates. He used an educational method that focused on discovering answers by asking questions from his students.Who said Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers? ›
Voltaire said that one should judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. In science, the questions we ask can be more important than the answers we obtain, and often pave the way for the answers we need.What did Socrates believe questioning? ›
Socrates, the early Greek philosopher/teacher, believed that disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enabled the student to examine ideas logically and to determine the validity of those ideas. In this technique, the teacher professes ignorance of the topic in order to engage in dialogue with the students.What is it called when someone questions everything you do? ›
It's “called” nosey, prying, inquisitive, curious OR simply a busybody!What are the benefits of Socratic questioning? ›
- Develops critical thinking skills.
- Encourages quick thinking.
- Inspires preparedness and attentiveness.
- Promotes active learning.
- Empowers in-depth analysis.
- Recognizes difference of opinion and fosters inclusivity.
Albert Einstein is known for the short quote, “Question Everything”. He was encouraging curiosity and an expansive mind. The truth is we are born with a natural desire to question everything and be curious, but along the path of growing up many of us lose that desire.What does it mean when you question everything? ›
To question is to consider; to consider lends toward understanding. Therefore by questioning everything, you are looking to gain a better understanding of everything. A lot of people can probably agree that understanding things is generally good; it is the goal of all education programs, school included.What are the 5 Socratic questions? ›
- Clarifying concepts. ...
- Probing assumptions. ...
- Probing rationale, reasons and evidence. ...
- Questioning viewpoints and perspectives. ...
- Probing implications and consequences. ...
- Questioning the question.
Towards a Theory of Question Asking 1
Explicit information questions are conceived as possible means used by a questioner to reach actual goals. The information sought by the question is fundamentally related, and even dependent upon, knowledge already available to the person.
Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher considered to be the main source of Western thought. He was condemned to death for his Socratic method of questioning.Does philosophy deal with questions that Cannot be answered? ›
Philosophy is a field of study that attempts to answer questions that cannot be answered by providing some fact, but that require a deeper understanding of the question itself. For example: What is the meaning of “beauty”? (Aesthetics)Who said thinking is difficult that's why most judge? ›
That's why most people judge” For some reason this somewhat enigmatic statement by Carl Jung made me think, what I thought, was a teaching of First Nation peoples that warned that one shouldn't judge someone unless you have walked a mile in their moccasins.Who said he who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions? ›
Confucius Quote: He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.What is Voltaire's method of judging a man? ›
“Judge a Man by His Questions Rather Than by His Answers” Voltaire*