One handy technique I learned at Microsoft was the Rude Q&A. A Rude Q&A is a list of questions you don’t want to hear about whatever it is you’re working on. What would the meanest, nastiest, but smartest people in the world grill you on when you show your work? That’s what goes in a Rude Q&A document.

Why do this?

  1. Preparation. If you do hear a tough question you want to be ready. A RQA runs you through the unpleasant things you might hear, and increases the odds you’ll handle that situation well. A good RQA raises confidence in tough meetings or presentations.
  2. Revision. If you have lots of good RQA questions, but don’t have good answers, it’s a red flag that your plan / design / pitch needs more work.

How to create a RQA

Find your nastiest inner cynic. Some people are naturals at this task and enjoy coming up with the rudest, most confrontational questions the world has ever seen. If this isn’t you, find your co-workers or friends who are and ask them to hold nothing back: go for the toughest, most confrontational, cut to the core questions. You might be offended or hurt by what they come up with, but that’s ok – better to be offended/surprised in an RQA than in a demo, pitch meeting or public setting.

If you have trouble starting, do this: imagine the devil incarnate, working in partnership with your biggest competitor or rival, doing a mind-meld with Bill O’Reilly, asking you questions on live TV. What do you imagine getting asked?

Make sure to include questions that are unfair or based on erroneous information. Reporters, clients, and the public all have their share of unfair questions and erroneous information, and you want to be ready for them.

The answers take more time as the responses need to be more polite and mature than the questions. They also need to carefully refute assumptions in the questions without being dismissive.

Examples

Here are some from my own rude q&A about my new book:

  • You were at Microsoft for years – Microsoft! – what makes you think you know anything about Innovation?. Since college I’ve been a student of innovation and invention history, and my experiences working on early versions of Internet Explorer (1-5), during the birth of the web as a mainstream phenomenon (1994-1998), gave me perspective on how new ideas, products and innovations actually happen. I worked with many of the first search engine and web companies and played a role in defining what web browsers would become.
  • There are dozens of books on innovation. Why should anyone care about yours?. The Myths of Innovation focuses on great stories – it uses stories to explore what we believe, separate truth from myth, and offer advice based on what innovators actually do. This approach is unusual as it’s very approachable, free of jargon and hype, and makes for an easy read that focuses on the questions that history supports as most essential.
  • Your first book was about managing teams and projects – but your new book talks about the uncertainties of managing innovation. Aren’t you contradicting yourself? The philosophy of both books dovetail. The same challenges occur on all projects, but if innovation is the goal the risks are higher and the uncertainly is greater. While the Art of Project Management does have chapters on managing change and designing new things, it’s a handbook so those are parts of the book, not the focus. The second book however is exclusively about ideas and how to bring them to the world.
  • Creative thinking is rare and inborn. What makes you think you’re qualified to teach people to be more creative?. I believe anyone can get better at anything. They might not become rock stars or Mozarts but if they study and work hard they’ll get better. The book offers solid grounding in creative thinking, true brainstorming and the psychology of creativity, using well supported claims about how creativity happens. A huge part of being more creative is separating myths from the truth and that is, as the title explains, the focus of the book.

Some of this is spin, for sure, but these are in essence good questions – and if I want to do well in interviews or talks, I have to be ready for them. Responding to Rude questions is largely about finding the core, valid nugget hidden inside, and responding to that, instead of the distracting rude bits.

As a matter of practice, preparing for any launch, demo, or presentation should include making a Rude Q&A.

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15 Responses to “How to write a rude Q&A”

  1. Terry Bleizeffer |

    I have a similar technique when starting projects – it’s basically the “assume you’re going to fail” technique. What you do is picture yourself 1 year into the future and pretend that the new project you’re about to launch has completely crashed and burned. And then you ask yourself, “Whoa, how did this happen?”

    When people are really excited at the beginning of a project, it’s easy to feel like success is inevitable. Assuming you’re going to fail allows you to anticipate what can go wrong, and correct course before there’s a problem.

    Reply
  2. Scott |

    Hi Terry – good point.

    That makes me think – one of the reasons people avoid this stuff is that they fear it will crush morale. But I actually think it works the other way – having honest criticism written down clarifies what the risks are and gives people more confidence to avoid them – a morale boost.

    But it depends on the culture and attitude of the team I suppose.

    Reply
  3. Heather |

    Good technique. I was actually just reading Michael Michalko’s “Thinkertoys” recently and apparently Walt Disney had a similar technique. He’d spend three stages evaluating an idea. In the first he’d approach it as an optimistic dreamer. In the second he’d approach it as a realist. In the third he’d approach it as a cynic. People are definitely better off critically evaluating their own work before handing it to someone else. Not only will it be greatly improved before anyone else sees it, but I think it’s easier to take others’ criticism when you’re already used to looking for the flaws yourself.

    Reply
  4. Quicken Websites |

    Why would anybody write a comment here? Because this is a great post! :))) I love this Idea so much I’m going to write a RQA for every presentation now.

    Reply
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