The Socratic Method

To put it into action, follow this general structure:

  1. Start with open-ended questions.
  2. Propose ideas based on these questions.
  3. Probe these ideas with progressive questioning.
  4. Repeat 2/3 until the best ideas are developed.

Here’s a process of how you might apply Socratic Questioning:

  • Start asking questions: What’s the problem you are trying to solve? We often waste time and energy trying to solve the “wrong” problem. Identify the “right” problem before you try to solve it.

  • Propose your current thinking on the problem: What is your hypothesis? What are the origins of that thinking?

  • Open the floor for targeted questioning: Why do you think this? Is the thinking too vague? What is it based upon?

  • Challenge the assumptions underlying the original thinking: Why do you believe this to be true? How do you know it’s true? How would you know if you were wrong? Identify the source of beliefs on a problem. Be ruthless in evaluating their integrity and validity.

  • Evaluate the evidence used to support the thinking: What concrete evidence do I have? How credible is it? What “hidden evidence” may exist?

  • Understand the consequences of being wrong: Can an error be quickly fixed? How costly is this mistake? Always understand the stakes.

  • Evaluate potential alternatives: What alternative beliefs or viewpoints might exist? Why might they be superior? Why do others believe them to be true? What do they know that I don’t? Evaluate them on their merits and ask these same fundamental questions about them.

  • After zooming in, zoom out: What was my original thinking? Was it correct? If not, where did I err? What conclusions can I draw from the process about systemic errors in my thinking?