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Lessons from QI: Look beyond the obvious answer for better results

On the Quiz show QI guests who shout out an obvious but incorrect answer will hear the forfeit alarm - a loud klaxon sound with flashing lights and the offending answer lit up on screens behind them.

It's become a popular regular feature of the show that has become more elaborate over time. It also illustrates just how easy it is to reach for an obvious answer especially when you're under time pressure – one so obvious that the QI researchers can predict in advance what someone on the panel will inevitably say.

"I believe that ignorance is a very important thing, in fact I think it's more important than knowledge. Ignorance drives science for example. That's what scientists are about - they're trying to find out what we don't know about. So the position that often is taken in education, that we already know everything, is completely untrue." – John Lloyd, founder of QI.

It's the same when you're researching a complex or creative issue. The first answer you find will probably be the most obvious. It's unlikely to be original or innovative and if you stop here you're in danger of discarding alternative solutions before you've explored the possibilities.

When we're under pressure it can be difficult to keep an open mind. Our brains naturally filter out unwanted information to concentrate on the task in hand. When we're in task mode ("Find an answer") we default to being narrow-minded, closing down possibilities instead of opening them up. We're looking for quick answers and easy efficiencies.

Thanks to internet search engines and social media feeds we've trained our brains to scan lots of information quickly to find answers quickly and efficiently – but at the expense of challenging the questions we're asking.

"If I were given an hour in which to do a problem upon which my life depended, I would spend 40 minutes studying it, 15 minutes reviewing it and 5 minutes solving it." - attributed to Albert Einstein

Reframing the initial question, asking further questions and challenging assumptions and preconceptions will lead you to explore different avenues which could change your thinking.


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