The Problem With Asking Questions
May YOU know the right question(s) to ask, as they might just save your business, your relationship or your life…
In 2016, when I launched my company to provide certain services that I’d noticed a demand for, I ran into a bit of a snag.
One of the things my company offers is publishing services and I was determined that as far as they co-operated with us, every author with book/s produced at The Fearless Storyteller House Emporium Ltd, would be taken seriously. One of the ways is with an ISBN.
We had contracts to publish a number of books in more than one format and I just didn’t feel like applying for single ISBNs per book format. The process of getting one was stressful enough. No way was I doing it 10X. So, I asked for a bloc of 10.
But the agent that I’d sent to the National Library kept getting told it wasn’t possible and I was starting to wonder if I was in a twilight zone. I know it’s possible in the UK and the US. Yes, Nigeria is a different place, but it didn’t sound right.
At the time, I was ghostwriting for another publisher and I thought me and the CEO had a good enough working relationship that I could share my dilemma with him and he’d be able to proffer a solution. Cos he had experience, right?
But dude tells me it’s impossible to get a bloc of 10 ISBNs in Nigeria; I’ve to put in 10 applications.
By this time, my first client had started to get jittery. First, there had been an issue with incorporating my company cos CAC ran out of their data allocation, so they couldn’t get on the internet. (Yeah, I too thought I was being scammed when I was told). And now, I couldn’t get ISBNs.
I felt tempted to go down the “apply 10X route”, but thought, “Since this is an actual business – not a one-off – it’s going to be a waste of our time, energy and money, as I’ll have to do this dance every time.”
I also remembered from growing up in Nigeria, academic publishers that were based in Ibadan (which was coincidentally? where my agent was). I knew because I was a voracious reader as a child and sometimes (if I liked a book or I was bored), I’d read the publisher details.
I don’t know the number of books they published, but they were many. So many that it made absolutely no sense to me that they’d have made one application per ISBN. Yes, they were a bigger company than mine, but still…
One mid-morning, I’m alone in the house, feeling frustrated after yet another “they say it’s not possible” response from Ibadan. By this time, we’ve been doing this semi-f*ckery for TWO MONTHS.
That day, I’m standing in the living room and I say out loud, “I KNOW this is POSSIBLE. So, WHY do I keep getting the wrong answer?”
And I hear clearly in my left ear, “Because you keep asking the wrong question.”
I know there’s definitely nobody else in the house with me. But I’m not worried cos I’m not someone who gets scared easily.
Plus I had heard that voice twice before (once when I was 15, the other when I was in my 20s), either giving me specific instruction or information that actually sounded ludicrous given the physical circumstances, yet had with time been proven right on both occasions. So, Intel.
It wasn’t a feeling or a knowing. It’s not a voice in your head or idea in your mind; it actually sounded like someone was physically standing close enough to speak directly into just my left ear.
[After the ISBN situation, I’ve heard that voice THRICE (the third literally saved my life & my husband’s) and it’s so distinct, it’s impossible to confuse it with another. It also can’t be argued with like you would with an idea in your mind or that someone else gives you. It’s very “I said what I said” – no matter what the situation looks like.]
And on this occasion when my business is being threatened (because what’s the point of a publishing company that can’t get ISBNs?), I’m like, “So, what’s the right question?”
I hear the question and I’m like, “How’s that different from what I’ve said? Any sane person should know what I mean.”
I hear, “It’s not actually the same thing. This is the right question. XYZ.”
Now, I’d only had experience 2X before with this voice, but it’d been scarily on point both times.
So, I think, “I’ve got nothing to lose”, call my agent and say, “Please, go back to the National Library one more time. When you get there, ask this question – XYZ.”
Agent, by this time is probably wondering what she did so bad to deserve me as punishment masquerading as a customer and says, “But it’s virtually the same thing I’ve been saying. Anyone with a brain…”
I say, “No. Go and ask this exact question in these words. Don’t add, don’t subtract.”
The next text message I receive from the agent is, “Congratulations! Your company has now been allocated 10 ISBNs. I’ll email you the numbers later today.”
Apparently, the very woman at the National Library who had repeatedly said it couldn’t be done, was the one who allocated the bloc of 10 ISBNs when we asked the right question.
But the story doesn’t end there, oh, no. I call up the publisher I’ve been ghostwriting for cos I think, “He’s going to need this info on how to get a bloc of 10 ISBNs to save money and time for his company”, right?
But guy says, “Oh, I know. You just have to ask them this question – XYZ.”
In my state of utter discombobulated befuddlement, I manage to ask, “If you had that information, why did you specifically tell me otherwise when I asked you?”
I find out three years later that he’d been telling some fantastical lies about me 🤷
One person he told, in a shopping mall of all places, (like he literally approached her and told her!) got in touch with me as she was actually surprised by what he’d said because she knew my character and the truth of my circumstances – even if a lot of people didn’t, because they’d run with what they’d been told on social media.
But she felt, “Hang on, what he’s claiming, doesn’t make sense. Chi-Chi actually likes her husband and just wouldn’t play with her marriage like that. This guy doesn’t even know she’s been married all this time.” And she told me.
Me, I was more impressed at his audacity, than I was offended by his lie…
I’d had experiences with delusional males telling senseless and even malicious lies, but none as creative as the series this one kept spinning. And I’d never have known of any if I hadn’t asked the right question.
So, yeah, even if you don’t know it yet, ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION CAN SAVE YOUR BUSINESS, RELATIONSHIP OR LIFE.
Which is one of the reasons I help women in Law and Media develop strong voices, solid careers and stable personal lives.
So, if ☝️ is something you’re looking for, you can apply for your paid consultation here.