Getting good answers means you have to ask good questions

How good are you at asking questions?

Work Smart Not Hard Tip No. 13 in a series written for Indie Cambs

I’m often involved in group discussions where people are so keen to give advice they don’t ask the right questions to know what the real problem is.

Back in 1919, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford said, “I have a row of electric push-buttons on my desk, to summon to my aid people who can answer ANY question I desire to ask concerning my business.”

Now we can all do the same, but just like Henry Ford we need to know which button to press and how to ask the right questions.

Maybe you want to brainstorm an idea, figure out what your cashflow forecast really means, write a business plan, check if your meeting icebreaker will be really inclusive. Maybe you want to research a competitor, check if your emails are too aggressive or apologetic, or find that one action point in a long email chain.

If you’re used to Googling things (or hopefully, using more ethical search engines, you’ll already know the limitations of trying to choose which links to follow, and how results can be skewed by adverts.

A.I., or more specifically, Chat GPT, can cut out a lot of these decisions and deliver answers a lot faster. Whether it’s a big piece of work or little frustrations like word formatting, iPhone settings, getting superglue off your fingers, you know you can use a search engine to get lots of versions of the same information. However, those things still require scrolling through websites, reviews, or long-winded YouTube videos.

Since Chat GPT was released in 2022 there have been lots of scare stories and warnings about AI but the truth is we’ve all been using AI for a long time, in all sorts of ways, from calculators to car parking sensors. The newest versions are different because they apparently “chat” to us and answer specific questions.

The trick to using them effectively is to understand how to ask good questions. This includes asking for the sources of the answers so you can check if they’re right. You’d do that with a person, right? So why not with a machine? Just like the rest of the information on the world wide web, not everything will be factually correct.

To ask good questions you need to know what kind of answer would be most useful. Do you want something very specific to one situation or something with a wider application? Something short and sharp or something with more depth? An opinion from an expert or a range of views? The difference between asking Chat GPT and a person is that the ‘bot won’t ask you to clarify your question. It will just give you what it it thinks is the right answer. It’s up to you to make sure the question is a good one or to keep going back and refining the question until you get what you need. (Unlike a person, the ‘bot won’t get annoyed if you keep asking more questions!)

This tool can be a huge timesaver for small businesses. It’s the ultimate work smart not hard tool – if you get the questions right.

If you’re already using it, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

The side effect of these chatbots is that “Googling” will become less common. If chat is used instead of search it means fewer people will be following links to websites so SEO and PPC ads will be affected. Amazon reviews may also lose their stranglehold. If this might affect your business it’s worth monitoring and finding out more.

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