This year, Douglas Adams’ novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” happens to turn 42.
As you might know, 42 plays an important role in the story as it turns out to be the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.
The only problem is that nobody knows the question.
Which couldn’t be more timely. We’re living in a time that’s obsessed with answers. Fire up any media and you’re basically bombarded with all kinds of answers on all kinds of questions you never asked. Maybe even more importantly, you’re getting all sorts of answers to questions that you did ask but from people who don’t care for the question or didn’t even listen closely – worse still, from people who have no clue.
Answers seem like the shortcut to results. Know this, do that, and everything will be fine.
The appeal of an answer is that it’s definite. It’s an end to a story. Even better: When someone gives you a simple answer it can feel like you’ve reached the summit without having to climb.
Until you discover that you’re on the wrong summit. Or only half way there. Or something even worse …
Because e.g. the answer wasn’t applicable in that case. Or only half the truth. Or outdated. Or plain wrong. Because, well, what was the question again?
When everyone seems to have answers to almost anything, it’s a good habit to start looking at the questions again. Answers get you only as far as the question went. Without a good question, answers are meaningless. Just as “42” can be the answer to a lot of things and will remain meaningless until we know exactly what the question was, many answers that we get today are meaningless because we haven’t agreed on the question or the question was unclear from the very start.
As the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so beautifully proves, questions can be harder to find than the answer.