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Wait, What? by James E. Ryan - 3 Big Ideas

Going to be a good show today, huh Maddi? Wait, What?


Welcome to 3 Things You Can Use, where Maddi and I decode self-improvement and entrepreneurship through books, three things at a time.

If you want to improve your life and your business through books with us, subscribe!

This week's book is Wait, What? And Life's Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan

James E. Ryan is the Dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

And I couldn't introduce the book any better than he did, so -- I'll let him do it:

"These 5 questions are essential everyday staples of simple and profound conversations alike. Questions that are almost always useful regardless of context. They are questions that can just as readily help you get you through a monday morning as they can help you figure out what you want to do with your life. They are questions that will help you form new relationships and deepen the ones you already have."

This is a truly unique and inspiring perspective from an author with a lot of depth.

So, what are three things we can use from this book?

3 Things You Can Use

1. The 5 Questions

"Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers." Says Tony Robbins.

And James Ryan has come up with the essential questions of life.

Five questions.

The first question:

Wait, What?

Wait, what, at it's core is about seeking understanding.

You can ask it in many different ways...

You can be asking for elaboration...

Indicating incredulity...

Conveying suspicion and skepticism...

Asking for clarification...

"In short, wait, what, is an essential question because it is at the heart of understanding, which in turn is crucial to a fulfilling and rewarding life, both professionally and personally. The world will be a richer place for you the more you understand the people and ideas you encounter."

The second question:

I Wonder...

Whether you are wondering why or wondering if, I wonder is at the heart of curiosity.

And while conventional wisdom suggests that curiosity can be dangerous, especially to cats... curiosity is conducive to health and happiness.

What was once mundane becomes mysterious and fascinating to the curious.

The curious try new things. Interest is poofed into being when the words "I wonder..." are spoken.

If you fail to wonder, you risk missing out on joys and possibilities you didn't even realize exist, that are sometimes closer than you could know.

The third question:

Couldn't We At Least...?

The question preceding all progress.

Couldn't we at least agree is the start of all social progress. Pushing back against polarization and extremism, getting past disagreement to form some consensus or find common ground.

Couldn't we at least is a way to get started while at the same time acknowledging the path ahead may be hard or uncertain.

As Mary Poppins says, "A job begun is a job half done."

The fourth question:

How Can I Help?

The question at the base of all good relationships.

How can I help signals that you care, that you are willing to help, but it also saves their dignity.

You validate that they have a real problem and that you are available to help if need be.

While at the same time it makes them take ownership for their own problems.

And at the very least, it serves as an invitation for them to vent and get some sympathy.

In this way, by asking how you can help, sometimes you already have.

The fifth question:

What Truly Matters?

The question at the heart of life.

What truly matters helps you to maneuver through the minutia in pursuit of the momentous.

It's the periscope for your routine submarine. Peer over the peaks and valleys of everyday life and into the vast expanse of possibility, reminding yourself of the world outside of your little submarine.

What truly matters? puts a magnifying glass to irrelevance. And it focuses us on the big picture.

Ask these questions and -- get at the root of understanding, the heart of curiosity, the beginning of all progress, the base of all relationships and the heart of life.

2. Bonus Question

And the bonus question.

Taken from the poetry of Raymond Carver, this is a question you will ask yourself when you are at the end.

"And did you get what you wanted from this life, and even so?"

Did you get what you wanted from this life?

Did you live it up? Did you enjoy the moments that you could enjoy? Were you present and active? Did you spend time with the people you wanted to spend time with? Did you accomplish the things you set out to do? Was the world a better place because you were on it?

and even so...

Pain and disappointment a part of life, this part acknowledges this and makes the question more serious.

"Did you get what you wanted from this life, and even so?"

Thinking of how you're eventually going to ask yourself this question is the point.

It rips the mundanity off of your day to day and prompts you to enjoy, to forgive, and to experience.

It makes you scoff at inaction and shun regret.

And it gives you the incentive to ask and use and live by the other five questions.

3. The Power of Questions

Einstein said If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes figuring out the right question to ask and five minutes finding the solution.

The right questions can be bowling bumpers, guiding you to the right answers.

Searching the ether with your blindfold on asking the cosmos, "warmer? colder?"

And correspondingly, asking the wrong questions will give you the wrong answers.

Like in Algorithms to Live By, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, overfitting by tracking the wrong metrics, i.e. A business focusing only on producing won't take enough time for maintenance and will eventually pay a price.

Asking questions like, "Why am I having such a bad day?" sets a tone and boxes your circumstances in, negatively.

"How can I make this day better," on the other hand, opens the box.

Questions are just as important as answers.

Questions usually have a lot of built in assumptions. The saying, "there are no bad questions," can't be true if that's the case.

But with the right questions,

What would your perfect life look like five years from now?

What would you try if you knew you couldn't fail?

What's your favorite color?

Questions can change you perspective and open up possibilities that, before then, went unseen.


Ask the five questions and get at the root of understanding, the heart of curiosity, the beginning of all progress, the base of all relationships and the heart of life.

Ask the bonus question for a quick shot of perspective

Remember that questions can be just as important as answers and put enough time into asking the right ones.

This book was funny throughout and was full of super touching stories and moments from his life.

His adoption and reuniting with his biological mom, his time at a disability clinic where one of the patients helped him take care of the others -- and so much more.

This book was a perfect combination of wisdom, humanity, and understanding the underlying questions of life.

I really enjoyed it.

Commencement speech including the questions

If you're not subscribed to Average Optimized, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss next week's video,  thanks for watching this with us and -

we'll see you next week!


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Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig

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