Unanswerable Questions

Ingrid Bengis pioneered essays on love, hate and sexuality. She was only twenty eight when the book “Combat in the Erogenous Zone” got published in 1972.  One of the best definitions of unanswerable questions I have seen has been described by her.

The real questions are the ones that obtrude upon your consciousness whether you like it or not, the ones that make your mind start vibrating like a jackhammer, the ones that you "come to terms with" only to discover that they are still there. The real questions refuse to be placated. They barge into your life at the times when it seems most important for them to stay away. They are the questions asked most frequently and answered most inadequately, the ones that reveal their true natures slowly, reluctantly, most often against your will.

Ingrid Bengis, Combat in the Erogenous Zone, "Man-Hating" (1973).

When questioning yourself gets hard, you usually turn to others. It is very easy when questioning to let your own values, preferences and biases to leak into what you are asking. Other’s perception of your values might not be the same and they usually don’t put deep thought into answering them. Be very aware of this.

The other side of the spectrum is to come to a conclusion – that if there are no answers from others,  then you don’t have to ask them yourself.

There is no shortcut to answer these questions. Continue your search for the answers to the point that it motivates you toward something beneficial . You have to practice momentarily letting go, once a question has outlived its immediate utility.

How often do you stretch?


I am not implying ‘Yoga’ stretches here. This post is more around a certain type of questioning methodology – called the ‘Stretch’ question.

A ‘Stretch’ question is a think outside-the-box type of question which will force your respondents to not come back with a certain pattern of answers and be creative in their responses.

Instead of asking “How do we reach more customers  in the next year?” , you can ask time boxed,  challenging target based questions , like  “How do we reach 2 times more customer in the next 2 months?”

The question so clearly breaks the existing thinking pattern that you are forced to think in out-of-the-box ways.

A usual defensive answer is – ‘That is impossible’ and your response should be – ‘If we had infinite resources, wouldn’t this be possible ?’.  This would start opening up a conversation where the chains to preconceived limitations are broken.

So, how often do you stretch ?

About the author: Anup Surendran is the product manager for Micropoll.  He has consulted for various technology startups in his career servicing Fortune 50 companies.  He works out of Toronto, Canada and blogs frequently on his personal blog.

Do you have the tools to be a design thinker?

Quoting from OpenForum :

Design thinkers gather information that helps us understand customer experiences. Once we understand the people surrounding our business challenges—their needs, desires, problems and aspirations—we can identify relevant business opportunities. Then we experiment our way forward, prototyping new solutions and getting these solutions out in front of customers as early as possible. As we prototype, we learn from people by observing, gathering feedback, and refining our approach. This central iterative cycle of learning—trying out new business possibilities, gathering feedback and refining the ideas—is what makes design thinking unique.

If you consider yourself to be a design thinker, what tools do you use to gather information about your customer’s experiences.  Do you poll them, ask them to fill out survey, or do you do you call them in to research groups?.  Do you have a less interrupting way of observing your customers ? .

Check this mindmap to see how the simplistic process looks like.

4 Tips to reduce Power Imbalances in your poll results

What we have seen  is that once a poll is created, it’s usually put in a prominent place on our customer’s website.  The reasoning is quite simple – the intention is to get as many pollers to participate. Even if this leads to higher polling participation, the results might be distorted.

There are many ways ‘Power Imbalances’ can result in skewed polling results :


1. Minimize Poll Creator Bias. If you were biased towards a certain polling option, you would put the polling option as the first option within the poll and usually seed the data accordingly.  When the poll creator seeds a lot, power imbalances in your results will be more marked.

2. Do not make discriminatory references.  Polling with questions directly or indirectly making references to special privileges, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, education, religion, health status and employment will encourage polls trending towards a power imbalance.

3. Provide the right context. Not providing the right context to your poll can lead in power imbalances. If your pollers came from a search engine with certain keywords, they are usually on your web page looking for something. If they happened to land on your poll and there was not enough context to the question you were asking, the search keywords could be the context they are using to complete your poll. So search optimization on the wrong keywords or not providing the right context to your poll could cause different polling results.

4.  Monitor your network.  Marketing savvy pollers can cause power imbalances. We have a feature where we let  a poller share their poll with other people. If the people they share the poll with, also happens to be ‘thinking’ or ‘influenced’ by the person who shared the polls, then again a power imbalance has occured. This also applies to viral surveys

About the author: Anup Surendran is the product manager for Micropoll.  He has consulted for various technology startups in his career servicing Fortune 50 companies.  He works out of Toronto, Canada and blogs frequently on his personal blog.

Enhancement : Simplifying the list – Round 1

The next item which micropoll will be rolling out (in the coming week) is an interim version of our list. We are making this ‘leaner’ too.

Looks simple, right?. But this is a big enhancement for us, because we are removing the ‘Title’ of our polls.  Check the screenshots below of what exactly we are removing and where we are removing this.

Please let us know, if you have any comments on this enhancement.

Benefits :

  • Reduces redundancy of columns.
  • List becomes less complicated
  • Users only have to worry about poll questions and has less to type in
  • More space in our published polls


Enhancement : Footer losing fat

One of the simple UI Changes we did recently (last week) was to introduce a more consistent footer.

I guess, we rushed through this and made this unnecessarily ‘fat’. 

Current footer (which we don’t like)

Latest ‘fatless’ footer (to be rolled out in a couple of days)


  • Access to Terms and Services and Privacy Policy after logging in
  • A more consistent look and feel
  • Opportunity for us to add other links in the future – blog , feedback etc.

Increasing Product Agility

At micropoll we are firm believers of  ‘increasing product agility’. This is something we keep in the back of our minds when we quickly roll out features. Product agility is a result of the team working in a ‘startup team-like’ fashion – communication is prompt, honest and features are rolled out with optimal speed and quality.

BUT, this agility sometimes costs us dearly. This is because we do not allow ourselves enough time to get to the root cause of the specific problems we’re having, and see if we can change the way we work so that we can prevent those problems from happening in the first place.

Rolling out new stuff is good, but rolling out fixes for stuff you rolled out regulary doesn’t make sense.  The right mix of product agility and process improvement is what a disciplined software company should have.  You don’t want processes to slow you down, but you want them to ensure that you are not reckless being ‘agile’.

Business sense is what matters the most even in Product management.  Reducing ‘Product Waste’ is key here.

How do you know, how agile your software product is ?

Since I love coming up with formulas, heres one which I believe will work for software products


Every variable in the formula above is self explanatory except for ‘Product Waste’ which I will explain in a later post.

About the author: Anup Surendran is the product manager for Micropoll.  He has consulted for various technology startups in his career servicing Fortune 50 companies.  He works out of Toronto, Canada and blogs frequently on his personal blog.

Would you spend your holiday with an amputee?

Canadians are a little different. I am currently one of them. I guess we are different in a nice way. Asked in a recent poll commissioned by the Historica-Dominion Institute to name famous Canucks, past or present, who we would most like to invite over for the ideal Canada Day backyard bash, Canadians picked Fox and Wayne Gretzky over a long list of celebrities and historical figures.

From a list of 30 Canadians, Terry Fox – the amputee hero who died in 1981 before completing his epic cross-country run for cancer research – emerged as the most popular dream guest, with 38 per cent of respondents choosing him. Read more about this here.

This selection of who Canadians want to spend their time with on a holiday shows a common trend among North Americans. A lot of us are beginning to accept that people who have brought value to others either through their personal sacrifice or their determined efforts are ‘celebrities’ in their own right.  Spending your time with these ‘celebreties’ (only if they were all alive) might be a good thing for your soul after all!

Monitor your online training and webinars

One of our customers uses our  polls very creatively. She creates polls before her webinars which are relevant to the content of her online webinar. She uses Webex and before she starts the session she lets the participant know that there would be mini quizes between her sessions. This keeps most of the particpants on their toes. 

The chat window in Webex would be used to send the link to the poll. The main objective is to see that the participants have picked up what the key points are.  She shares the results of the polls with the rest of the participants. If the results were worse than what she expected, she would simply repeat the topic where they had trouble understanding the key points.  Keeping the results anonymous is good for her participants.

It is refreshing to see how this simplistic ‘quizzing’ improves the quality of her webinars progressively during the webinar. 

If you folks have other ideas or places where you have used polls before or would like to use polls, don’t hesitate to post your comments.