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News Director/Author Andrew Finlayson

If you want the right answers, you need to ask the right questions.

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Andrew Finlayson loves asking the right questions. In fact, his inquisitive nature led to the idea for his first book on, you guessed it, asking questions in today's business world. Actually, he's made a career of asking questions as the news director of KTVU Channel Two in the San Francisco Bay Area, a station with the highest-rated late-night news show in its region.

In his book, Questions That Work, available at or at the Questions That Work Web site, Finlayson goes over all the steps of how entrepreneurs can benefit from asking the right questions. Each of 18 chapters in the book offers a different approach to the practice, from asking fair questions to not worrying about asking stupid ones. Here, Finlayson relates his philosophy to entrepreneurship. Any questions? What led you to want to write this book?

Andrew Finlayson: In the line of work I've been in, I've had a chance to meet with people who were successful. I listened to the questions. I saw that they were learning from other people's mistakes. I started to gather these questions and asked people what their favorite questions to ask were. I realized I had something here I should share with other people. As I started to talk to these people, I found a common denominator: The most successful workplaces were the ones with a positive questioning-attitude culture.

"Truthfully, the best questions are the simple, dumb ones." In your book, you talk about the different components that go into asking good questions. How did you come up with these?

Finlayson: I spoke with personal coaches, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, you name it, and I [discovered] all their question-asking techniques and analyzed what made them better than mine. They followed steps, and [I've included the components of these steps] in the book: 1) awareness; 2) ability (who has the knowledge); 3) atmosphere (when and where to ask questions); 4) attitude (how to phrase and present questions); 5) answer (did you get the one you needed?); 6) appreciation (did you form a relationship and thank them?); and 7) action (the process is pointless unless you can take action from your questions). This book gets you closer to making a decision and then taking action. What approach do you take to ask positive and focused questions?

Finlayson: I liken it to a golf swing. We can all swing a golf club, but there's a big difference between you, me and Tiger Woods. The pros break down how to handle their swing. The same thing goes with a question. If you break it down and then master it, you'll have one smooth stroke. What do you think about so-called dumb questions?

Finlayson: Many bosses like to start conversations with "there are no dumb questions." Truthfully, the best questions are the simple, dumb ones. And it does no good to ask questions if people aren't listening to the answers. Questions that put you on the spot and are designed to make you bleed in front of your co-workers are very poor practice, and you see that sometimes. Teachers are often guilty of that. They try to get right answers, but how about trying to focus on the right questions?