In January 2010, when Steve Jobs introduced the new Apple iPad to the world, he showed a slide with a smart phone on the left, a laptop on the right, and a big question mark right in the middle.
Then he said the question they asked at Apple was “is there room for a third category of device in the middle? … something that’s between a laptop and a smart phone … and of course, we’ve pondered this question for years as well.”
By asking the question this way, Jobs explained, the design team was forced to design a new tablet that could do things the other two devices could not. For this third category of device to be successful, it would have to be both highly portable and great for surfing the web, reading ebooks, sending email, playing games, and so on. That’s exactly what the iPad became.
Whatever you’re working on right now, does your success or failure depend on whether you’re asking the right question in the first place? Yes is the common thread running through the stories of dozens of game-changing innovators.
Why was Apple’s tablet the first to succeed in the marketplace? The iPad was launched in 2010, but tablet-size computers had been around since the early 2000s. Why was Jobs the one to make them a success? Isn’t this an example of the power of asking the right question in the first place?
Albert Einstein attributed much of his success to his focus on first asking the right question. He famously put it this way: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
Einstein was clearly trying to tell us how crucial it is to get the question right in the first place.
So how exactly do you do that? How do you figure out if you’ve asked the right question in the first place?
Einstein’s answer is clear: it’s not easy. Take the time to do it right. And take heart also by realizing that your education probably didn’t teach you much about asking questions – most of your education was about giving answers to someone else’s questions.
Here’s a tip: find that key on your keyboard with the question mark. Make it your new favorite key. Start using it more often. Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein would say it’s likely your first step to finding the new solution you’re looking for.
(Next post on Monday … till then, D.G.)