Different Answers

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Same Questions:

I love the story told about Einstein teaching his class of advanced physics students. It goes like this. He administered an examination to the students. One of his teaching assistants noticed that the exam he handed out was the same exam as the prior year.

The assistant carefully approached Einstein and pointed out the mistake. After thinking for a while, the great Einstein smiled and said, “We do not need to do anything. It’s true that


the questions are the same. However, this year the answers are different.”

Not Just Physics

This revelation about changing answers to our questions is not just applicable physics. It applies to our everyday lives. We may still be asking some of the same business questions; however, today the answers have changed significantly.

For example, we may be wondering how we reach a target market for our product or services. Indeed, technological advances around how we communicate have changed. We are employing some “tried and true” assumptions about our consumers that we now know are not true. One of my favorites is the economic assumption that people will be rational and act in their own best interests. Neuroscience tells us that human beings most often do not act rationally from an economist’s point of view.


Elsewhere on this blog, I posted another of my favorite sayings, “To Question is the Answer.” Moreover, that means to question me, my knowledge, my assumptions, and my answers. I appreciate having someone challenge my answers. It almost always brings me up short. I inevitably learn something when I’m willing to test my answers.

When I believe I have the answer to a challenge, I stop looking. To have a solution is to end the search. Often, that ending of the search will be premature or perhaps based on some faulty assumptions. So it’s right to question our answers.


As if it isn’t enough to learn that science has updated itself and corrected the answers it provided, we must contend with the fact that we human beings do not remember accurately. It turns out that every time I recall a situation, that is, “take it out of memory and bring it to my consciousness,” I embellish it a bit and put the “new memory” back in storage. The legal system is slowly coming around to recognize that eye-witnesses are highly unreliable.

The jury may not understand this. The lay-person will likely still assume that an eye-witness must “know” how the scene unfolded. First, the witness may not have seen everything that happened because of their location in relation to the action. Second, every time they are asked to remember what happened and relate it to authorities, they change the event.


I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit tired of being told how fast things are changing. I get it! I’m living it! To me, the most important thing about the fact that things are quickly changing is that I must be more diligent in questioning my answers. I must work harder to make sure my information is up to date with the latest understanding from the experts.

I must also take the expert opinions as not being cast in concrete. Things may change as the experts learn more. Newtonian physics was excellent for many decades. However, we would not have an accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) without Einstein and the discovery of relativity and quantum mechanics.

So, the questions we have may be fundamentally the same. However, the answers are changing at a fast pace. We must learn to ask new questions as well as question our answers as to how the world is. Reality doesn’t exist. It is only my reality, and my reality has a short shelf-life.