A co-worker and I spent an hour doing something innovative… and no, it was not part of a “Google 20% strategy.”  We spent an hour discussing PKI, personal identity, and trust of both “passive content” (like documents) and “active content” (like applications) as that content originates from one actor, passes through another actor, and finds its way to a device that I own.  We spent a lot of time thinking through, and discussing, some fascinating ideas and thinking about how we use notions of “trust” and how those notions have to change as our world becomes increasingly digital, interconnected, and fragile.

The point of this post is this: that was perhaps the most fun, interesting, and thought provoking conversation I will have this week.  In many ways, it may end up being the most valuable (assuming I decide to draw value from it).  And the entire conversation started with a question, or a series of questions, that my co-worker had on information security and content assurance.

The power of a question…

I’m working on a book with a friend of mine.  He’s excellent at thinking through ideas, and bringing them to the fore.  He’s an amazing speaker and an effective strategist and leader.  A writer… not so much.  One tactic that we are pursuing right now is the notion of a conversation.  If I can send him a series of questions, can he make a recording of his answers and send them back to me, and allow me to author a chapter for him.  We are looking at that idea right now.  It may not work.  If it does work at all, it will be because of the “power of a question” led to thinking along the lines of a specific topic… thinking that can be distilled into a simple, logical, consumable form. 

How many questions do you answer every day?  If you are in the EA or IT architecture fields, as I suspect many readers of my blog are, you probably answer a sizeable number.  Architects are often employed to “find the answers.”  But let’s not be too sure of ourselves.  Perhaps the real power of the work we do is not in the answers we give, but in the questions we ask.

For each question we ask has the potential to stimulate thought, to trigger ideas, and perhaps to develop an innovative idea.  If someone asks me a question, and I ask ten people various questions as a result, and they each ask ten people, then 111 people were impacted by a single question.  As long as there is a way for innovation to work its way through that community, then we have the opportunity for one question to trigger thinking in over 100 people, potentially leading to a useful and practical innovation. 

All because of the power of a question.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

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