Questions from 6 Months of Writing

Clive Thompson made an online tool that extracts only the questions from a piece of writing.

So I dumped the last six months of my blog posts into it in reverse chronological order. Here's what came out (edit slightly for legibility):

What are the most important problems in your field?

Why aren't you working on them?

What would the opportunity to tackle the most important problems in your field look like?

And how could you apply your unique combination of skills to them?

How much would you pay to keep your mind calm most of the time?

And at the end of the day, aren't they a small cost in exchange for inner peace?

So if you’re evaluating a new job or set of responsibilities, ask yourself: Will I mostly be working on this organization or in it?

And on which end of that spectrum will I feel most fulfilled?

So who gets credit?

The best way to do this?

But what happens when the platforms that run on it incentivize us to deliberately lower the quality of our work?

How does this happen?

How glorious is that?

And the woman buying marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate at the supermarket?

Ferriss decided to take the approach further and started to question other parts of his strategy as well: What if I only asked questions instead of pitching?

What if I studied technical material, so I sounded like an engineer instead of a sales guy?

What if I ended my emails with “I totally understand if you’re too busy to reply, and thank you for reading this far,” instead of the usual “I look forward to your reply and speaking soon” presumptive BS?

How do I instruct people to do this correctly?

What can I remove so that this needs no instruction?

And airlines?

The result?

Which is the better deal?

But what happens if you can solve the issue that led to all those customer service emails in the first place?

Or create a portal that lets customers address common issues on their own?

What will the expected waiting time be?

But what will the wait time be when you add a second bank teller?

Why is this true?

Need something for the back porch instead?

If you're operating on a patient's right leg, how do you know if it's your right or your patient's right?

If two Jane Smith's are scheduled on the same day, which one needs the lung transplant and which one is getting her gall bladder removed?

And what happens when the assistant gets distracted by an emergency and forgets to swap out the surgery plan from the previous operation?

Would I talk to someone else this way?

How quickly would I forgive them?

And how would I navigate this inner tension if its source was external?

What happens when computers are given increasing levels of autonomy?

And when you pair that autonomy with "real-world APIs," what happens to our communities when more and more of our jobs are managed by instructions we've given to a computer?

Fermi's Paradox poses the question: Given that the universe is so massive, and given that it must have many places that can support life, where is everyone else?

So why haven't we made contact with any other life forms?

Is it more effective to incentivize people with a carrot?

Or to inspire fear in them by brandishing a stick?

Want to build trust and confidence in your leadership?

But what if the existing system is built on prejudiced and racist assumptions and needs to be completely transformed?

So the question becomes: Which of these numbers do you spend most of your time trying to change?

Are those numbers the most important ones?

And how do you really measure a life?

How many businesses do you think would be donating 1% of their revenue to the climate if it wasn’t this easy?

What is Art?

The performance begs the question: If shooting your friend in the arm constitutes art, what is art, exactly?

But did he shine a light on our humanity?

But surely, just shooting your friend on camera isn't enough to constitute art, right?

Does that make you one?

What does that sound like to you?

If you weren't spending three hours on Instagram each week, what would you be dedicating that time to instead?

When an outcome isn't what we wanted, there are two questions to ask: Did the system that produced this outcome work as intended?

If it did, is the system really designed correctly if this is its result?

Instead of trying to infinitely maximize the number of people you're trying to please, consider this question instead: What's the smallest audience you need to make your work worthwhile?

Commitment If it takes 45 minutes to roast potatoes at 400° Fahrenheit, when will they be done if you cook them at room temperature?

My favorite answer?

Where's the money in the industry going?

Which offer should you accept?

Keep the Channel Open Theseus' paradox poses a simple thought experiment: If you systematically replace every single part of a ship over an extended period of time, is it still the same ship?

But it still has the same essence from when it was first constructed, right?

So, how do we best fill that page?

But comedian Lewis Black has been there, and Redditor u/CharlesDrake has photo evidence: If this little corner of the world can support two Starbucks, then isn't anything possible?

Can you imagine what the history of the internet would look like if Larry Page and Sergey Brin had looked at the other 23 search engines and gave up before starting because online search had already been done?

How fast am I breathing?

Who has already solved part of this?

How hard will it be to reverse this decision if it turns out to be incorrect?

How many electric devices are there in your home?

How many computer chips are there in your home?

When was the last time you had to turn your toaster off and on again to get it to function correctly?

Are the ghosts real?

If your experience there leaves you feeling haunted — so in awe of the beauty of the sunsets you feel a little bit dizzy, your senses so heightened that the impending night restores your childlike fear of the dark — then aren't they real enough?

If it worked last time, why change it?

Want to push yourself out of your comfort zone?

Virgina Woolf said it best in To the Lighthouse: What is the meaning of life?

Here's the brain teaser: Are your odds of winning the car better if you switch your choice to the other door?

After the host opens a door, you have a 50/50 chance either way of picking the car, right?

Understanding why this is true is easier if you consider a version of the problem with 100 doors: If you pick one door, and the host opens 98 of the remaining doors, should you switch to the other remaining closed door?

Which door seems more likely to have a car behind it?

Your random pick or the door the host intentionally left closed?

So why do we care about this?

So how do we decide what to pursue?

Why are simple solutions better?

Which parts of the plane depicted above would you reinforce?

And yet, which gets more media attention?

What would happen if we responded to this crisis if we took it as seriously as terrorism?

Armstrong reportedly confided, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here?

What happened?

But what happens when environmentally friendlier options become status symbols?

But an airbag that deploys correctly 90% of the time?

The actual number of goals I scored that season?

And if you can't tell your story, who will?

We know that's a staggering sum, but just how big is it?

Want to eliminate all federal student loans?

So here's the question: If we framed spending policies not in terms of dollar amounts, but in terms of the real and tangible opportunity costs associated with those policies, would we make the same decisions?

Once you become aware of this, you can apply it as a useful litmus test when exploring new relationships and environments by asking yourself, “How much of me can I bring to the table here?

What better way to show that off than have a turtle set your pace as you enjoyed the city?

Will I feel taken care of?

What does that mean?

Are the creators of the show respecting my attention?

Did the show start reasonably on time?

Are the transitions short?

Did the marketing honestly represent the experience and set correct expectations?

Was there care put into the overall design of the show?

Is it cohesive?

Can I hear OK and are the sound levels balanced?

Can I see what I’m supposed to?

Are the performers having fun?

Or are they straining to hit their note, find their light, remember their text, and connect with each other and the audience?

What are we willing to compromise in the name of progress?

If you’re a city official, what do you do when the public is scared of a new bridge?

Hat tip to Austin Kleon for sharing Thompson's tool.


Reflections on creating systems to sustainably grow your impact on the world.
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