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Questions over Answers

Growing up, I remember listening to Bob Dylan on the radio with perplexment. He would sing:

“the answer my friend is blowing in the wind”

To a twelve year old, this made little sense. How could wind, something invisible, fluid and uncontrollable provide any solution, any answer?

And because the world was way too exciting, I pushed the question to the back of my mind and continued in my zeal to make my mark on the world. I ended up in the field of engineering where I discovered my passion for inquiry became a super power. The quest? An answer to a never ending question “How do we know”? (colloquially called software testing ). In particular I was interested in finding answers to:

How do we know if a product is fit for purpose?
How do we know we have a quality product?
How do we know if critical bugs exist?
How do we know if we are on the right track to improving quality?


I’ve dedicated many years to looking for these answers, and helping others look for answers too.

Having answers, being right, knowing what is, offers plenty for the anxious of mind and heart. In engineering, we feel we can for a time at least, shut the door on human complexity and focus on binary. Black and white, zero’s and ones. Of course, it’s an illusion, but it does offer respite from the world. Especially now, when so little seems certain.

And besides, answers and solutions are cool! Answers build knowledge and understanding . Ask enough and in due course they provide you with credibility and an appearance of trustworthiness. You become someone to trust, an expert in your field of study.

But ego hitches a ride along with most answers, enticing us all with an inflated view of our worth. And along with that, we have bias built into every knowledge block we add, building a mental model flawed and potentially able to hurt those we’re simply not aware of.

The more we rely on our knowledge and expertise, the more we believe in its worth, the more brittle our mental model becomes. We don’t see that of course, but others do.

After some soul searching, I’m forced to acknowledge too that in reality, this search for knowledge and knowing is a veneer. It’s not a drive for knowledge but more a thirst for enquiry that drives me to question what I do. I guess some people might call this a search for truth.

The reality again, is that this soul searching hasn’t always led me to pretty places. Shattered illusions lie all around me even as I write this post. At times it’s led to despair, and heightened anxiety as answers seem to become more illusive and ephemeral in nature.

Today I feel at peace, so what’s changed?

I’ve reframed my search. Instead of looking for answers, I’ve started revelling in the question. Rather than seeking to be whole, I’m exploring the hole.

Peace doesn’t come from an answer, a solution. Peace comes from the question. It’s in that moment when the question leaves your lips and floats into the wind.

By Anne-Marie Charrett

Anne-Marie Charrett is an internationally recognized expert in software testing and quality engineering.
She keynotes at international conferences on the topic of Quality, Coaching, and Leadership.
Ex-Head of Engineering at Tyro Payments where she transitioned testers to a quality coaching model
Consultant on Quality Engineering, developer of the quality operating model. Invented and rolled out a consulting model for quality engineering.
Consulting across FinTech, Media, Government, Insurance, Banking & Telco Sectors
Creator and Lecturer of Enterprise Software Testing course at UTS Australia. Co-developed a coaching model aiming to transfer testing skill and know-how using the Socratic method.
B.Eng (Hons) Electronic Engineering (I really am a quality engineer!)
Based in Sydney, Australia works – internationally.

3 replies on “Questions over Answers”

It seems there is a close parallel between questions and answers and winning and losing! The answers I sit on are indeed easily dismantled. But with dismantling comes perspective and the ability to re-innovate my ideas in a sturdier fashion and with more creative flair (I would hope). At least, this train of thought has me waiting in trepidation to see how my ideas might fall to pieces around me, if only for the chance to rebuild anew.
It seems our thoughts on this subject have somewhat overlapped this week!

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