Ask a silly question

Friendship WheelAsk a silly question’, my father used to say  ‘and you get a silly answer’.  I have one dataset at the moment which I am using for two different reports: the first is  an internal strategy report, and the second is the dissertation for my MSc. This not only demonstrates once again the power of the question to drive the discussion, it also demonstrates the different concerns of business and academia.

It’s like one of those irregular verbs:

  • I want to  know how my colleagues have used Web 2.0 tools over the past 18 months or so.
  • My boss wants to know if they’ve been used responsibly or if it has turned into a cross between FaceBook and the comment threads in You Tube.
  • My dissertation supervisor thinks I should explore the way that network groups cut across formal power structures outlined in organisational charts.

I’ll freely accept that my question is just too vague.  Answering my boss’s question has been simple but time consuming: select a sample and then click and look.  Repeat.  (Incidentally, it turns out that the tools have been used entirely responsibly, which shouldn’t really be a surprise.)

The interesting question of course, is the one that my dissertation supervisor is steering me towards: this is the one about how the spider’s web of contacts and favours works within organisations and how (or whether) Web 2.0 tools has supported them.  That will require some delicate questioning, and I’m not sure how to approach it.

So just now I am drowning in data, but until I’ve decided on my questions, I have no idea how to slice it and dice it or what answers I’ll find.


9 responses to “Ask a silly question

  1. Have I mentioned recently how uttterly jealous I am of your course? It sounds _fascinating_.

  2. It’s certainly good, Sol, and I am really in to it and will miss it when it’s over.

    The the really fascinating stuff is either generic (qualitative vs quantitative) or chosen by me (the subject of my dissertation).

    Mind you, the leadership module couldn’t have been timed better, and I enjoyed the stuff on culture and…

    Oh, ok, it’s good stuff. Want any second hand text books?



  3. Ooh – asking the right quesiton -a big topic in research.

    Letmmeeee think about things and post something.

  4. Oooooooooh. You tempter, Ben. Would I actually read them though? I tend to need courses and deadlines and things to actually sit down and wade though anything more taxing than something not at all taxing these days.

    On the other hand… I think I may email you…

  5. Do. A lot of them are not really text books so much as people riffing about how cool things are affecting society. Mind you – I’m evil to text books, I read them with a highlighter and a pencil. But email me.

  6. Questions .. Questions.

    Because you have to go through ethics committees to do medical research you end up thinking carefully about your project before you actually do the research.

    Audit is a totally different matter. You can just go and collect loads of data from your patients notes. And then find that the data didn’t answer any sort of useful question and you have wasted huge amounts of time.

    I’ve known people who have done ill designed audits – where the collect some data – an d then realise that they would have had a really interesting audit if only they’d collected different data.

  7. Which comes first, the question or the understanding? The problem is you have to know a fair amount about the domain in order to be able to define a meaningful question.

    And you touch on an interesting difference between audit and research, and one I want to think about more. I suspect that a lot of social science research is closer to audit.


  8. My Dad used to say the same thing – and now I find myself saying it to my children too!

  9. A problem I had many times during my studies – fitting the question to the answer!

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