Focusing on the most important question

Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence, shares a powerful tactic he calls MIQ (Most Important Question):

One of the things that I have [all of my clients do] and that I’ve been doing my whole life is ending my day thinking about the most important question. And then waking up in the morning, first thing; pre-input, and brainstorming on it.

This is an incredibly powerful tool that I learned from my dad who’s a great writer [which he uses in his creative process]… and Hemingway wrote about it in his writing process… It’s been a huge part of my life for decades…

  • Ending the day strong… and focusing on what matters most.
  • And building the musculature of focusing your being onnot all this ancillary stuff that just comes at youbut what really matters the most.
  • Releasing itnot stressing out about it all nightsleeping well.
  • And then, first thing in the morning pre-inputnot after checking the news or checking Bloomberg or checking Twitter or checking stock pricespre-input, brainstorming on it.

Because what you’re doing that way is you’re systematically opening the channel between the conscious and the unconscious mind. And that’s something you can do systematically, day in and day out, rhythmically.

…this is the kind of thing that you can do at night and in the morning but then ultimately… throughout the day, it’s very important to do this.

Before you go to the bathroom pose yourself a question. And then don’t check your phone while walking the bathroom. Release your mind, and then come back from it, and then think about it; returning your mind to the question…

Because what you’re doing this way is you’re training your ability to focus on what matters most.

…And I think the MIQ (Most Important Question) training is one of the most important things that a decision maker can do, because the best way to train an analyst in a discipline is to train them in knowing where to look. What matters most.

And so, there’s a system that emerges from this day architecture.

Imagine [there’s the] evening/morning rhythm and then three or four reps of it throughout the day. And then imagine you have a team where you’ve got a leader who… is at a higher level in a certain discipline, and you’ve got a group of analysts beneath… This [enables a] system I call “MIQ gap analysis” where:

  • Everybody is doing this most important question training, initially, one rep but then multiple reps throughout the day.
  • There’s transparency throughout the team.
  • And then there’s a periodic review [which is] a really powerful way to bring in healthy feedback in an organization or in your own internal structure.
  • There’s a review of “what did you think the MIQ was?”, now and then a week later.
  • And two weeks later, from this this elevated perspective after you’ve done much more work, “what do you think the MIQ was?
  • And then the gap is often where you’ll devote your work.

And in a team structure you can have somebody overseeing the MIQs of a group of analysts and then sometimes tweaking it; sometime making suggestions. And then team training and deliberate practice can be focused on the gaps that emerge… between what seemed like the most important question then, and what later on became apparent was the most important question.