Do you Know the Right Question?

How Many?

How Many?

See if you can compute the answer to this riddle in your head. (NO PENCILS ALLOWED!)

It is important to remember that the bus driver does not count into any of your computations.  So put your pencil down!!!  Take your time and let’s see how sharp you are.

At his first stop a bus driver picks up 11 people.  At the next stop 2 people get off and 3 people get on.  (Be sure to remember the bus driver does not count) At the next stop 5 people get off and 2 get on.  At the next stop 11 people get on and 5 people get off.  Then 2 people get off and 1 gets on.

Hold that number in your head and continue reading to see if your answer is right. 

The question is…. “How many stops did the bus make?”  The Answer is Five!  Most of you haven’t got a clue because you assumed the question was, “How many people were left on the bus?”

One day I found my daughter Taryn with one end of a length of fishing line tied Pulling Out Tootharound a tooth and the other end tied around a door knob.  She was swinging the door shut only to have it violently jerk her head without affecting the tooth.

There was a reason for this.  She didn’t have any loose teeth.  I felt to make sure.

“Your tooth is not loose.” I scolded.

“It will be loose in a minute.” she answered, giving the door another swing.

“Stop it!”  I commanded.”Your going to hurt yourself.”

Instantly she snapped, “Leave me alone!I need money!” And she swung the door a final time almost yanking herself off her feet.

Wow!  The question was not about a loose tooth.  It was about her need for some cash.  If I had asked the right question, I would have known that a dollar bill would have avoided at least three neck snapping yanks.

Whether we are a leader trying to address the needs of our team members a parent dealing with adolescent trauma, or a follower of Christ trying to share our faith with others, it is essential that we know the question before we try to give the answers.   Listen, ask, and understand!  Only then can you respond.

Too often we design programs and products and communication around what we think the question is before we investigate to find out what the real question is.

Am I the only one?


  1. It has taken me most of my life to figure out that the key to understanding the most difficult people in my life (or anyone at all for that matter) is to KEEP MY BIG MOUTH SHUT, don’t advise…just listen. Many times the answer is right there and you don’t even have to say a word (which was a bit hard for me at first but now I rather like being seen as a wise sage when all I am doing is keeping myself from talking about MY experiences, MY thoughts, MY…whatever…) Great post.

    1. Thank you Pat! Here’s another question. Guess who still needs to learn to keep his big mouth shut???? Thanks so much for your comment.

  2. Ouch! Sounds like your daughter was hard up for cash and was willing to go through pain to get it.

    You’re not the only one who doesn’t ask or think about the right question to ask. I find myself doing that frequently with my wife.

  3. I just finished watching “Fully Alive” and it was the most extraordinary stand-up comedy I’ve ever seen. Excellent, excellent, excellent!

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