What do you get if you multiply six by nine?

“42”

That answer is correct in Base-13. It is also the “ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything” in the Douglas Adams novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.2

The problem in this novel was they forgot the question, so they settled for randomly pulling Scrabble tiles out of a bag. This resulted in the question: “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”

I was watching a new television series about an FBI agent who is dragging the FBI, kicking and screaming, into the modern era of psychology and sociology as law enforcement tools. Early in the first episode, our guy is talking to another agent about how much the world has changed and how much they don’t know. He says, “No one is even asking the questions.”

Our world is changing. We need to question what we are doing and how we are doing it. This is very difficult for several reasons.

Asking questions makes us vulnerable. It is hard to admit we don’t know and difficult to let go of our current position. When we question the current system or “way things are,” we create a void that must be filled, and we are unsure about what that will look like. Interestingly, the void is there whether we question it or not; we just aren’t acknowledging it. This is actually a scarier situation, but we often manage to be comfortable in complacency.

Asking questions is hard work. Like the example above, it is not just getting past the pride or complacency to ask, it is knowing what to ask and how to ask. Finding the right questions and interpreting the answers takes time, patience, and an openness to different views—or “bases” if you will. We are all aware of situations where people ask a question and then get the answer they want to hear regardless of the response. We can improve our understanding of the responses we get if we have multiple people with different biases looking at the data.

Finally, asking questions creates more work. Once we admit we don’t know and are open to new ideas, the data will most likely lead us to change. Change is hard and risky. Most of the things in life that have value are difficult to achieve or acquire. However, we can strengthen our “change” muscles. Like training for a marathon or learning a new skill, practice makes it easier.

The world is changing. What questions are you going to ask today?

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