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The Right Answer is Usually “That’s Not a Good Question.”

I spent a lot of time in consulting in my career, particularly in the field of information technology (IT). With computers, people often ask if something can be done or if a problem can be fixed. These people are sometimes the individuals working in regular, non-IT jobs. Sometimes they are managers, or salespeople, or customers.

And they all want to know if something can be done. The answer to that question is always the same: “sure, it’s possible.” Because it is technically possible. Given enough time and resources, you can solve most any IT issue.

But the answer “sure, it’s possible (with enough time and resources)” is the answer to almost any question! Ask your neighbor to do open heart surgery, ask the next person in the carpool line to do some translation into Monogolian, ask someone to design a phone app for your collection of home recipes–and they can probably do it. They might need a decade of training and millions of dollars in equipment and a support team but they can do it.

Because in IT as well as most places in the world “can you do this” is often a bad question. The question should rarely be can. Instead, ask should. As in: “should we do this?”

Politics is no different. We spend a ton of energy demanding: “can we implement policy X?” or “can we cancel policy Y?” But these questions presume that the arguments were already made and are widely known.

Can we expand farm subsidies? Can we cancel federal student loan debt? Can we reduce taxes? Can we increase border funding?

But most of the time, these are not good questions. Instead, ask should. As in: “should we implement policy X?” or “should we cancel policy Y?”

Because the question should we inspires discussion and debate. Should we is a place of research and study. Should we is where all of us go to learn and maybe even change our minds.

Once we’ve decided if we should, then we’ve done the hard work. We’ve made the best choice we can with the information available.

Because if we should, the next question is how.

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