Sunday, July 16, 2006

I believe strongly there are only two answers...

I believe strongly – and more strongly every day – that there are only two possible answers to a “first question”. They are:

  1. Why

  2. It Depends

I was reminded of this a couple of times in the last week in my various engagements. The most poignant times were with a customer that “solves problems”. They do many things outside my area (lots of cool tools, a little like being on the set of myth busters). A point I got many times was “asking ‘why’ is very important”. People rarely really know what they want. They think they do – but they don’t. Especially when you don’t know what is possible. When you don’t know what is even possible – how can you know exactly what you want (or want to do – in the database for example).

This blog entry I hit reminded me of that in a way. (Yes, I definitely had to google BBROYGBVGW while reading that). Selling that stuff in the article was similar to answering technical questions in a (very roundabout) way. If you read the “why” blog entry I have a few (there is an infinite supply) examples of how just answering a question outright could be dangerous (you need to know why they think they want to do something).

Why and It depends. Always the right answers (but remember, never say always, never say never, I always say” – or as someone commented on the blog once “always is never true, never is always false
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16 Comments:

Blogger Rachel said....

nice to be famous... or at least quoted still :)

Sun Jul 16, 10:10:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I couldn't agree with you more. I've gotten no end of questions about how to do something obscure and difficult...and on applying the "why" question determined that they had tried to solve a problem and gotten halfway there.

I used to drive my team nuts in meetings when asked an overly general question I'd answer "Well, yes and no..."

Sun Jul 16, 11:44:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Nicolas Gasparotto said....

Last week, one guy asked "how to wait 10 seconds before an insert?", I answered/asked "Why did you want to wait?". His response/question was "Why did you want to know why?"
I tried to explain that I would to give a valuable advice, but he didn't understand... The explanation of "why?" ask some pedagogy.
Just my comment....

Mon Jul 17, 05:26:00 AM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

I think that the answer to the question, "Should businesses sell things to people if those things are bad for them or that they know will be misused?" is neatly revealed by the definition of Corporation in the Devil's Dictionary ...

"An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."

It's been brought to my attention many times that ethics should be reserved strictly for out of work hours activities.

:D

Mon Jul 17, 09:38:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Andrew said....

I find that the response "Why?" is often tied to a 'what' from the my customer (developer). By 'what', I mean that they tend to come to me with a solution (the what) already in mind. Like users coming to developers with a 'what' instead of a desctiption of thier business problem. A simple example that we can all relate to. "Plesase create a dump of the database every day at 6:00 PM". That is a 'what'. Asking 'why' reveals that they want a means of restoring in case of failure and their solution is a daily dump. After explaining our real backup process and procedures, the 'what' went away.

This is what I mean that the question "Why?" usually results from a 'what' request.

Also, enough "Why?" questions will drill down to the real business problem, then solutions can be created that solve the problem. But do to this successfully requires knowledge of your tools and techniques, but most of all, it requires a knowledge of the data. For a DBA that could well be the data dictionary. For a developer (and the DBA too, but to a lesser degree) it is more likely the application data and how it is used.

So it comes down to one of the cardinal rules for successful business problem solving and application development. KYD -- Know Your Data. Another of the rules, of course, being . . . Do not be afraid to ask 'Why?".


Never forget the last line to that great bit of poetry "Twas the Night Before Implementation"...

Yet the users exclaimed with a snarl and a taunt,
"Its just what we asked for but not what we want."

Mon Jul 17, 10:16:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous John Spencer said....

One of my favourite questions is: What would you do with it if you had it?

Particularly useful when you get those requests for a report with 10 columns from each of 5 marginally related tables.

Mon Jul 17, 11:44:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Venkat said....

Absolutely True. Its a vicious circle. If one wants to know where an ROT is used i would have to say, it depends & again ask him why? For example, if one can say 2*7 = 14 as a ROT, i would say even that is flawed :-). How? I would ask them whats the base you are using. Under base 13 its 11, under base 14 its 10 & so on....

Mon Jul 17, 11:57:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Gabe said....

I believe strongly that the very first thing should be “define X, define Y”.

The meanings of the terms and a context for the question [if in doubt] have to be established prior to even attempting an answer.

You do it all the time really … “define better” for example, is what you’ve asked back many, many times.

Mon Jul 17, 02:00:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Joel Garry said....

Sometimes, you can only wonder why.

word: wrevav

Mon Jul 17, 02:21:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Dougie McGibbon said....

BBROYGBVGW -
Bad Boys Ravish Our Young Girls But Violet Goes Willingly
- was always the mnemonic we were taught to remember it

Mon Jul 17, 04:15:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Tom Barry said....

always is never true, never is always false

Or, as I like to say, "There are no absolutes."

Mon Jul 17, 08:05:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

The statement below is true.
The statement above is false.

Tue Jul 18, 08:51:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Bob said....

BBROYGBVGW is one of the few things I remember from electronics class 25 years ago. GSN (Get Some Now) accually completes the phrase- Gold/Silver/None. Had to Google for that.

Tue Jul 18, 12:55:00 PM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

The cynic in me says that in the "old days" the first "B" in BBROYGBVGW was not remembered as "Bad", but as "Black". Any bets, anyone?

Wed Jul 19, 10:05:00 AM EDT  

Blogger William Robertson said....

> Last week, one guy asked "how to wait 10 seconds before an insert?", I answered/asked "Why did you want to wait?". His response/question was "Why did you want to know why?"

Obviously you should have asked him why he wanted to know why you wanted to know why.

Sat Jul 22, 09:36:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Nicolas Gasparotto said....

>>Obviously you should have asked him why he wanted to know why you wanted to know why.
For sure, next time I will not forget it.

Sun Jul 23, 08:20:00 AM EDT  

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