A good way to find out how sharp a person is to listen carefully to the questions they ask. Smart people ask very sharp questions which cut right to the core of an issue, while less astute individuals kind of dance around the edges.
Smart entrepreneurs ask the sharpest questions because often the success of their own business depends on the questions they ask. Smart people who work for large organizations usually do not have to ask such sharp questions because they have an employer who tells them what they need to do, and they are usually not paid to ask questions, they are just paid to do things they are told to do, regardless of whether the tasks are smart or not.
I have long been an admirer of the folks at 37 Signals because I think that they are a small and very smart crowd of people. For me, they represent the kind of company which future entrepreneurial organizations should be like: small, smart, fast and lightweight. They are the Davids (as opposed to Goliaths) who want to continue to be small and smart, and focus on serving their customers’ needs.
One of the reasons I admire them is because they were the incubator/developer for Ruby on Rails, which I talked about earlier in this article. What is significant about the 37 Signals team is that they think of themselves more as designers than developers, which gives them a different perspective. Instead of adding features, they are focused more on making software programs easier to use. This is the thinking behind their online application suite offering which includes Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, Backpack, Writeboard and Ta-da. After doing web development over several years, they have captured their thoughts about web application development in a downloadable PDF book called Getting Real.
A major part of their appeal is that aside from being designer/developers, they also have an appreciation of how the business world works. For this reason, I’m a frequent visitor to their website. Recently, they had a posting to their company blog called Question your work. According to this article, there are several questions which you should always ask:
- Why are we doing this?
- What problem are we solving?
- Is this actually useful?
- Are we adding value?
- Will this change behavior
- Is there an easier way?
- What’s the opportunity cost?
- Is this actually worth it?
All of the questions are very good big-picture questions which should be asked up-front before embarking on any major development project. I have seen many fairly major software development undertakings, as well as marketing projects, which did not answer these questions well, and frankly, a good deal of grief would have been saved if these questions were posed first.
So regardless of where you are, whether you are in the US, China or anywhere else, ask these questions first before you embark on a major business adventure.