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Good Questions

Do you ever play the party game 20 Questions? This is one of my all time favorite games because it helps you develop critical skills while you have fun. It teaches you how to ask the right questions in the right way to win the contest. 

For those unfamiliar, 20 questions is a game played with 2 or more people with 30 minutes to spare. I love to play this game with my family when we have a long drive in a car, when the normal conversations start to fade. Each person gets a chance to choose any object in the universe. Then the others have 20 attempts at figuring out what the object is by asking a question. The question needs to be asked in a way that the chooser can only answer "yes" or "no." Proper nouns (like names) are allowed but they can be tough to solve. 

There was a time when my daughters and I played this game for about 8 rounds and were having a blast. We would solve the puzzle most of the time, sometimes in as few as 13 questions. Then my eldest chose an object that stumped us so bad it was frustrating. The noun was "that little bald spot on the back of Nannie's (their late grandmother) head." That was a funny observation but tough object to narrow down through questions.

The more you play this game the better you get at asking pertinent and relevant questions. You start with big general questions to set the context, such as "is this a person or a thing?" Then you keep drilling down to get more and more specific and detailed until you've narrowed it down to one specific object and you can then place your guess. To win at this game you need to visualize concepts and formulate questions to narrow your focus until you get to the "aha moment."

This is exactly what Customer Discovery is all about. You start with an 'object' you want to test, normally stated in a hypothesis about a pervasive problem your customer is having. Then you keep asking questions. You should be able to solve any experimental hypothesis with 20 or fewer steps. The steps may involve survey questions, customer interview questions, data experiments or market research. You keep drilling until you get to the "aha!" and you have proved or disproved your hypothesis. The motion is always the same. As a Founder or Product leader you need to step back from your own ideas and "discover" the hidden gems that lead to key insights. That is the essence of the Agile way. It leads to true innovation defined by market success.

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