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How to Q&A

Ask better questions – and keep asking until you get to the marrow.

Unfairly, Q&A articles are often seen as the lazy way to generate content. But they are one of the richest sources of inspiration if the interviewee is interesting, and the interviewer asks the right questions.

One of my favourite Q&A projects was led by Together and Sunspell. They go deep. They ask about dreams and childhoods and early memories. But I don’t limit myself to blog form Q&As. I also listen to good podcast interviewers like Tim Ferris. I have a soft spot for Humans of New York, and more recently, Subway Book Review (talking to people on the subway about the books they are reading).

The best interviewers have an antenna for detail. They are curious. They ask people to be specific. They ask for examples. They ask weird questions. The best way to do this is over the phone or in person. Record. Transcribe. It’s the hard way, but you get better articles.

Whenever I heard a good interview question, I add it to a list on my phone. Here are a few examples:

What did you learn this week that you will still care about five years from now? What is one thing you believe that other people think is crazy? What book have you given away most as a gift? What are three questions you don’t know the answer for right now?

Ask the questions. Get out the way and let them talk. Dig more until you reach the marrow.

Then hit publish.


How to respond when you don’t have the answer.

Few people have the answers.

When coronavirus brought the world to a standstill, the instinct for most brands was to reach out to their customers. Some of this communication was necessary. But most of it was noise.

Thousands of leadership articles were published. My inbox overflowed with unsolicited advice about how to WFH, how to bake bread, how to avoid financial ruin. You name it.

Several clients have asked me about coronavirus messaging. Aside from avoiding the word ‘unprecedented’, here is my rule of thumb:

Share your experience, not your advice. 

I’ve expanded on this thinking in the introduction to Coronavirus Q&A series for Parisleaf. Instead of publishing a leadership message, I suggested that they pass the mic and let their team share their feelings. I kicked off the first interview with Jess.

In one sentence

What’s the most valuable sentence you own?

Most brands think in terms of narratives rather than sentences.

They have stories ready to be told. But they might not have answers to simple questions. Like, “What do you do?” or “Why are you here?”

Last summer, I did a workshop for TOG Knives. We spent the evening before sharpening knives and talking about Bert’s collection of over 100 Japanese blades. I was impressed by his ritual of sharpening. His interest in collecting, and patience with teaching others how to care and prepare for knives. I realised that Bert’s message to the world wasn’t about TOG. His brand was an expression of this love. But it wasn’t his motivation.

The next day, I came up with the lines, “Honor the knife. And celebrate the difference between one knife and the next.” Honor the knife is now a mantra for TOG.

It can take weeks to find the perfect sentence that sums up your brand. When you have it, it can become as valuable and recognisable as your logo.


The ideas that change the world often come out of nowhere.

Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road on a 120-foot long sheet of paper that he taped together. He finished the novel in three weeks.

The musician Steve Harley lost his song lyrics on the way to Abbey Road recording studio and wrote Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) in the back of a taxi on the way there.

Banksy uses stencils for his street graffiti, spraying up artwork literally overnight. His art is now valued in the millions.

There’s a myth that creativity takes time. But unless you’re painting the Sistine Chapel, it probably shouldn’t take as long as you think.

Which brings me on to 500Mins™. Last week, we launched a brand accelerator for entrepreneurs looking to raise funding. It’s a new venture with The Workshop, my friend Jason Briscoe’s studio.

The idea is simple. We take a rough idea and sprint with it for a full day (which happens to be 500 minutes), leaving you with a pitch deck at the end. We recently booked our first session with Brown Sugar, a start-up created by ex-Googler, Alex Abelin.

Being honest, 500Mins™ started as an experiment. A challenge to see if we could do it.

Now we know for certain that we can bring an idea to life overnight. Our 500Mins™ session ended on a Friday evening, and on Monday morning Alex was speaking with investors.

Here’s what Alex said about the experience:

“500Mins was productive, illuminating and downright fun. Jason and Seth are exceptional professionals with a wealth of experience. Their talents shine in real-time as they question, sketch and expand what’s possible. Seeing true masters of their craft at work was both humbling and rewarding. I’m grateful for their contributions to Brown Sugar and look forward to many more future collaborations. 500 minutes is the definition of time well spent.”