They say its not what you know, it's who, that determines your success. Whether in building a career, starting a business, applying to school, or even your chances of meeting a life partner, you can have all the factual information in the world, but none of that matters when you don't have the right connection. But what if you don't know anything at all?
Your success at anything is based on what you know you need to learn. If you can ask the right questions, you can solve any problem, overcome any obstacle, and fix any issue. We can do anything with the right tools, facts or connection.
It doesn't matter what your personal standard of success is, or even what area of your life you're looking to achieve success in, it all starts with asking the right questions. There are 5 specific questions to ask to solve any problem.
First, ask why.
Why does this problem exist? Why do I need to solve it? (Related: do *I* need to solve it? Or can someone else solve it? Is this my problem to solve?) Why does it matter if this problem gets solved or not?
Asking why helps narrow down a purpose. Sometimes, we take on problems that aren't ours to fix. Sometimes we're making a problem out of something that isn't actually a problem. Sometimes it's a problem that will eventually resolve itself, whether or not we do anything. Ask why it matters.
Second, ask what.
What exactly is the problem? What are my options? What are the consequences to those options?
You need to define the issue. Be specific. No problem can be solved without all the information about it, at least not effectively. Sometimes if you address a problem without considering the consequences, you create more problems than you solve. Ask what, and get clear on the details.
Third, ask how.
How quickly does this need to be fixed? How should this problem be solved? How will we know when it's fixed? How can we get through this? How do we do this?
"How" questions are the natural result of definition. This is brainstorming in its simplest, purest form. Our brains generate tons of ideas in answer to the "what" and "how" questions, which then lead to the 4th question:
What do we do first? Second? When do we need to start? or finish?
Asking when helps organize all the ideas and options and possible solutions. This is the beginning of a plan to solve your problem and move you towards success. Even if you don't write anything down (and I highly recommend writing down your ideas), you'll start to make sense of what you want, and the feeling of being overwhelmed will begin to turn into passion and anticipation.
Finally, ask where.
Where do we begin? When you ask where, you're asking for the actual steps of your plan. In GTD-speak, (David Allen's book "Getting Things Done", a method for time management and organization) you're looking for the "next action". If you can identify the next immediate thing you can do, you can actually do something that will actively move you forward towards your definition of success.
All the tips, tools or right connections in the world can't help if you don't know what you're looking for. Asking the right questions is where you always need to start, no matter if you're deciding who to date, where to live or how to start a business. But when you have the right questions, the answers are easy to find, and no obstacle then can stop you from doing exactly what you want to do. When you ask the right questions, success is easy.