Opportunity-Seeking Questions

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Questions Shape Answers

Both answer-seeking questions and outcome-seeking questions focus attention onto a narrow range of possibilities. This is because the form of the question is designed (however unwittingly) to define the answer. Of course, this also depends on the respondent's willingness to comply with the customary protocols of the question. But most people obediently follow the logic of the questioner's format, even though their own thoughts may be very different. Thus, it is unusual to hear someone reply to an answer-seeking question, such as, "What is today's date?" with a reply, such as, "Carrots and monkeys." And it is equally unusual to hear an outcome-seeking question, such as "How can we get home at this hour?" answered with "11.45pm at the latest".

Many Opportunities Remain Unnoticed

In the past, traditional academic scholarship has tended to frown upon what it calls a 'lack of rigour' in research. “browsing is not deliberate reading in search of information known to be vital to current work”, and has been described as “an untidy operation” (Apted, 1972). This implies that the researcher should know what she is looking for. In this context, the process of 'noticing opportunities' may seem rather mysterious, because it may dawn on her in unpredictable ways. As Freud said: "It is obvious that in cases of losing, the object is already provided; in cases of finding, it first has to be looked for." Others have warned against browsing for graduate work, suggesting that the volume of unpublished material in any field is so great that “browsing is well-nigh impossible and usually unproductive” (Orne, 1972). This is like the conundrum in which the act of recognition sometimes appears to precede or to accompany cognition. It is also pertinent to the 'information object', or the 'hunch' in creative research. As a book shop executive once noticed: "If you buy a book, you will not have read it before".

Abductive Reasoning

Charles Pierce (1839-1913) is credited with the invention of abductive reasoning, in which curiosity is aroused by something anomalous, incongruous, or puzzling. So it is likely that the 'question' will be less clearly formalised than either an answer-seeking question or an outcome-seeking question. What passes for an 'answer' is also likely to be an explanation, or account for the anomaly in question. However, in the computer programming world, some expert systems have been inspired by Peirce's theories of abduction. A common form of logic used in these systems is where instructions may specify a number of conditions (e.g. "if X, then do Y, or else do Z").

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