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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.