Too Many Questions

Tell us about a time when you had to choose between two options, and you picked the unpopular choice.

One of my not-so-many pet hates is cash machines, and the hatred is two-fold albeit related to the same thing – how long they take to use.

They take ages for one or both of two reasons. The first is that the user in front of you in the queue simply wants to do all their banking at the machine. Presumably they’re annoyed by the fact they can’t get a mortgage or long-term saving bond from the machine. I was at the bank the other day trying to pay money in and was not allowed to ask a human to do it. I had to use the machine that will not only give you money but also take it off you. The queue was enormous. The queue for a person wasn’t.  In fact, it was empty.  Paying money in to a bank account should not be stressful under any circumstance.

The second reason is that they ask so many questions. They should be limited:

  1. What’s your PIN?
  2. How much money do you want?

The machine can then give you the money if you have it, or refuse to if you don’t.  The whole transaction can be done and dusted in under 10 seconds.  Instead, they want to know if you want a balance check, if you want a receipt, whether you want an advice slip and I’ve no real idea even what one of those is.  Does it recommend that you should change your hair or that that colour shirt really washes out your skin tone?

And what’s more, the yes and no answers are in different places on the screen.  You can get them wrong by fractionally dropping the little concentration that should be required to get your own money.

That got me wondering about how many questions is too many questions.  I’d once upon a time read an article that I can no longer find that said that the most important part of business is asking questions.  The guy himself said that he did it in a self-deprecating way but the end result was that his thirst for knowledge had been quenched and he was able to make better decisions because of it.  And, when someone brings it up, you actually know what that damned acronym stands for!

But there are still circumstances, I feel, where one can ask too many questions. It’ll become uncomfortable for the interviewee and it probably infers that they’re either not giving a good answer or that the interviewer isn’t asking the right questions to start with.

I also wonder how much one should refrain from asking questions and go with their gut feel. Gut feel is that instinctive answer to a question or that lingering thought that there is something not quite right with a situation.

Jonah Lehrer gave an interview to New Scientist in 2009 in which he explained “that because our emotions emerge from our unconscious mind, from our internal supercomputer, they tend to reflect more information than our rational mind” and, therefore, that some big decisions are better made on the basis of an emotional or intuitive response.

Lehrer talks through a few good examples of using intuition versus facts before concluding with his own experience of deciding it was time to get married. He used his emotional brain, which is actually the opposite of Darwin who wrote a list of pros and cons of marrying Emma but Darwin “didn’t find his list too useful, because as he discovered it is possible to justify just about anything: the brain is great at coming up with reasons”.

The main tool that Lehrer found really important is metacognition – identifying a situation to find out how much information is important in making a decision. He calls it “thinking about thinking” (which I think is very similar to The Chimp Paradox which regular readers may have heard me mention in the past).

This, to me, is the important bit, because I think intuition and facts can work together. It’s possible to read some information and accept it at face value because it fits something that the intellectual brain thinks is right. Some people can get so emotionally attached to an idea that they will be unwilling to hear reason.

I would like to think I sit somewhere in the middle. I’m increasingly finding myself wanting to ask questions to back up a gut feel. This makes it a slow process, and probably too slow on occasion, and I hate not being able to make a decision whether it’s the popular one or unpopular.

Like with the cash machine though, I get there in the end.

Use your mind and make it talk
Cause in this world it’s all you’ve got.
We all fall down from the highest clouds to the lowest ground.

The Answer by Kodaline

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