Book Notes: QBQ: The Question Behind the Question By John Miller


QBQ: There are no bad questions...or are they ?

Do you recall being in a training session, school or a presentation, where the speaker told you 'ask anything, there are no BAD questions?' 

John Miller disagrees, only he calls them "Incorrect Questions" -> "IQ"

To be fair - he is not talking about the kind of questions we ask when we are trying to learn / problem solve or understand something new.

An Incorrect Question - or "IQ" is a question that doesn't move your forward, can get your 'stuck'. They do not serve anyone (not even yourself) . Mr Miller describes three (3) types of 'incorrect questions'

Victim Thinking Questions

Any questions that you ask that begin with "Why", and have a "poor me" tone. Examples include:

  • Why can't I find good people ?
  • Why don't they pay me enough ?
  • Why does the younger generation really want to work?
  • Why can't I get more direction from upper management ?

Procrastination Questions

Other types of Incorrect Questions (IQ) are one's that begin with 'When'. These type's of questions
  • When will they get back to us
  • When will somebody handle this situation?
  • When is somebody going to give us the vision?
  • When are they going to train me?
These types of questions focus on 'the other' person, and prevent you from taking action. They give you an excuse to procrastinate. The opposite is to ask yourself - What can I do to move my life forward.

Blame Thinking Questions

The final type of IQ are questions that start with the word 'Who'
  • Who made all this mess?
  • Who is supposed to be covering this area?
  • Who dropped the ball?
  • Who let the dogs out?
These questions lead to the 'blame circle'. Everyone and anyone can 'point' to someone else and ask a 'Who' question.  Mr. Miller talks about the company 'coat of arms'.  It points to everybody else.  This has a great cost to the company.  They move away from brainstorming and in to blamestorming.

Mr. Miller's book is about personal accountability. When you say or repeat "IQ's", they make you feel powerless, like a victim. They sound like you are a victim of your environment. They cause you to be unfocused, they waste precious time that could be used to solve the problem.

In contrast, QBQ! asks us to ask better questions, replacing those IQ's with the Question behind the Question (QBQ!)

The three simple guidelines for a QBQ are:

1. Begin with "What" or "How" (not "Why", "When", or "Who"). 

2. Contain an "I" (not "They", "them", "we", or "you".) 

3. Focus on action. 

Personality accountability can be preformed by anyone at any level in a company. It focuses on the only person that you can changed. YOURSELF.  It is not about fixing the company, or fixing someone else, it's about personal growth and change in yourself!

He humorously demonstrates this with his 'prayer of serenity - with a twist'

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know - It's ME!

Some people seem to be naturally good at 'QBQ' and don't even know it. The books gives several examples of a receptionist,  a waiter, and a flight attended. In each situation the person could have used an 'IQ' (Why me?), but instead asked a better question - "How can I help improve the customers experience now", "What can I do today to move the team forward?", "What  practice can I engage in to help solve this problem today?", "What action would I take right now..based on what I have heard so far?"

The ultimate QBQ to ask is "How can I let go of that which I cannot control?". Leaders have learned a truth, the only person that you can YOU.

Wisdom is what we learn after we know it all.

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