Stuart Woods


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What one question, which you have never been asked, would have the biggest impact on your future?

I am interested in the art and architecture of questioning. I have been intrigued reading the threads of the TED conversations and how people respond and react to questioning. I am curious on how we answer questions but particularly here on our ability to frame them for ourselves. The 'never been asked' part of the question is crucial for this. I believe that deep questions, framed carefully, can unlock great potential. The TED is testament to our ability to do it for each other but can we do it for ourselves? Francis Bacon said 'A prudent question is one half of wisdom'.

Closing Statement from Stuart Woods

Whatever question it takes to unlock our true potential, If we do our best work, nurture others and reward kindness then our legacy will live for eternity, not in things or places, but in the hearts of individuals who we hope are compelled to pass it on.

I have read everyone's responses with gratitude. Essentially what I noticed from the responses was that people who I have never met generously opened up their inner hopes and dreams whilst remarkably structuring them to allow others to gain from them too, inspirational! Many think that predicting or forecasting the future is impossible and yet over generations our willingness to try has not be diminished in the least. I find this fascinating and believe it is testament to our need for certainty and to hope for the best. I could tell by reading the responses (often in the inference to what would happen if we actually asked ourselves these questions) that we readily ponder our PURPOSE on this earth. I also noted those who chose not to add what their response, but I hope by responding everyone did think of their answer.To search for deeper meaning for our existence is a recurring theme, so too, the altruistic standpoint of first offering to others before ourselves; heartening indeed. Some of the proposed questions referred to 'leaving something behind'- a legacy. When we transcend egotism I surmised from the what we might really mean is the statement I opened with:

Whatever question it takes to unlock our true potential, If we do our best work, nurture others and reward kindness our legacy will live for eternity, not in things or places, but in the hearts of individuals who we hope are compelled to pass it on.

Thanks to everyone I now have a wonderful resource on which to draw when I need re-focusing and re-energizing. I hope you do too. I fully intend to pass your questions on to my students. Best wishes. Stuart

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    Mar 12 2012: Did you really need to buy that.
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    Mar 11 2012: The real success is not achieving what the world challenges you to achieve, but indeed what YOUR HEART challenges yourself to achieve. WHAT DOES YOUR HEART CHALLENGE YOU TO ACHIEVE?
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    Mar 8 2012: If you alone were in charge of shaping humanity, what would it look like?
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    Mar 13 2012: ...

    What is your dream and how can I help?
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    Mar 12 2012: What can you do in your community?
  • Mar 7 2012: "What do you want to leave behind?"

    We all work towards a goal, striving to achieve those dreams that are always in the distance and when we do reach those dreams there are new ones to strive for. Often we lose track of what we leave behind, we're never really sure about how our aspirations have affected the others around us.

    This is the question that will drive me to change. It's not enough that I ask myself the question because I feel I'd be prejudiced to an answer.

    I want to leave a legacy behind, something people can be proud of and something people can copy. It's a warming thought to see people generations behind you emulating the good examples you've left behind.
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      Mar 7 2012: Thank you Alessandro for your response. How would you go about designing what you leave behind?
      • Mar 13 2012: I'd like to believe in forging a good road that people can follow. Show them character and attitude worthy of admiration not because of superficial things but because there's truly something to see. My legacy is not one that's original-- I'd like to live John Maxwell's legacy of adding value to others. Nothing inspires people more than others who believe in them and what they can do. Adding value to others not only builds a good lasting relationship but it also creates a "pay forward cycle". Knowing that something like that can happen would be just heartwarming.
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          Mar 16 2012: That is definitely a good way to live life. Leading by example has been my objective from this year on. It is difficult when you live in constant chaos though, but I am happy I came to terms with reality. I am happy that there are others advocating this mentality. =)
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    Mar 6 2012: My big Q - At your funeral one family member, your closest friend and your spouse were asked to each give a eulogy. Based on what you would like them to say about you, how would you change your life, in order to make their statements of you come true?
    Now that is a true challenge, and a way of looking forward.
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      Mar 7 2012: Peter, your response had made me think a great deal. Phrasing it in this way has meant one can theoretically project forward to make change now.....very insightful and thoughtfully constructed. Thank you.
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    Mar 6 2012: Would you share with me how you became the person that you are today?

    I think that by telling/sharing with others our past, we naturally look at ourselves and reflect
    on our life and the choices we've made. This has great potential for changing ourselves and also
    for changing others.

    I would love for someone who has known me for a while to ask me this question.....but my favorite
    of all times continues to be>>>would you like to attend a TED event for....FREE?? LOL
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      Mar 6 2012: Thanks Mary, appreciate the question. I agree change has great potential and is challenging, exhilarating and at its best transformational.....however many resist it......
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    Mar 16 2012: How can I help (I mean actually help) you?*this individual is able to devote a portion of time to actually guide an individual through a certain path according to their answer* For the past few years of my life I have tried to be that individual. I hoped that from teaching others I could learn more about them and certain perspectives from the experience of helping others. Eventually, I could know much more about who I am and what path in life I will be pursuing.
  • Mar 15 2012: Are you ready? Cuz it already started =)
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    Mar 12 2012: Thanks for everyone's comments and questions so far......... Lisi, I believe that we begin to affect positive change on the world by starting with ourselves. I find your comment about ego very interesting, I hadn't thought of legacy in that way before.
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    Mar 10 2012: What will your legacy be?
  • Mar 8 2012: Do you know what the driving force in your life is? I got this idea from a Ted Talk that I watched a while ago and I have been contemplating it. We are who and what we are. When we realize that which drives us; we can grab the wheel and steer.
  • Manue M

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    Mar 3 2012: Let me think about it. But, I don't see how I can answer this question.... Do you mean it is a question that I have already asked myself but if someone else was asking it to me, that would change my life?
    Well, if someone could question me this way:
    "is it not true that......?" And telling me things about my past that I have kept to my self only ( could be a detail), something I thought of, a special memory, an amazing dream I have made that nobody knows about, I would freak out!!!
    Does it partly answer your question?
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      Mar 3 2012: Thanks, there's great truth in the quote, 'you don't know what you asked until you hear the answer', so thanks for being the first. I'm not sure it's about a revelatory moment when someone is able to read our minds or stumbles on a fact we didn't think anyone knew....I really don't want us to freak out!! I think it could be about a question you have wanted to explore verbally which you have never had a chance to do. I know an extrovert shapes thinking through talking but this question is not just aimed at extroverts. What I think it may do is prompt us to fast forward to the answer we'd come to even (maybe) before the question is fully formed. As a teacher of teenagers there is a 'race' to an answer when often exploring a well thought through question reveals a much greater this amazing dream that nobody knows about, how's that working out? : )
  • Mar 16 2012: Have you met the love of your life?
  • Mar 16 2012: what is your next step, if you have to drop all the purposes of your life tomorrow?
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    Mar 16 2012: 9 HOURS TO GO! Any final responses out there please post them today! Many thanks for your incredible contribtions so far. Stuart :-)
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    Mar 16 2012: Thanks Clerk, great question. There is a book called 'Dear Me' compiled by Elton John for his AIDS Foundation on just this subject. Famous people writing to themselves at aged 16. It makes for very uplifting and often moving reading. You can contribute to the on-line blog at
  • Mar 16 2012: If you had only 30 seconds to send an audio message to your younger 18 year old self, what would you say?

    If you had only 100 words to write a letter to your younger 18 year old self, what would you write?
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    Mar 14 2012: Dear Stuart, very interesting subject.
    " if you could size the love inside you, would you be able to give it all?
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    Mar 14 2012: Thanks again to everyone for your inspiring thoughts. The notion of purpose, destiny and legacy has come up time and time again. Really interesting.

    My question expires soon so any last responses would be gratefully recieved. :-)
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    Mar 13 2012: After my Matric, to be asked: What do you really want to do? ( instead of being forced).
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    Mar 13 2012: How do you want to be remembered?

    This question can cause you to think about the way in which you lead your life and make you re-evaluate everything!
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    Mar 13 2012: who are you ? or whats your purpose ?

    Just think about it !!! you can be a Artist, Scientist, philosopher a business man !!!
    ... we think we know who we are but the real truth is ... we are what we think we are, we are what we believe we are and what others believe we are .... we are what we project ourselves to be in the future ... this reality what you and i experience right now is not you... but the path to perfection of being you... what you truly will be !!! we always tend towards what we think we are !!! what we think we can be !!!

    this question made the biggest difference in my life !!! and i still ask this to myself... !!!

    Know thyself - Socrates !

    Cheers !!!
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    Mar 12 2012: In answer to this question:
    If you could do anything in the world what would it be?

    If we use our perceived limitations we most likely will not go far. if we ask :" Of all the possibilities in the world which would you love to do? Which would make you happy?" Then you have opened up infinite possibilities which can only be limited by our thinking.
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    Mar 12 2012: yes Manue, there are a multitude of practical ways to make a difference. From my experience the practical ways that seem to be most effective with the most positive results come from giving of ourselves in time. An example could be "Habitat for Humanity". Or to hire a person to help you out instead of a giving them a "handout" . This invariably contributes to their sense of self-worth by not showing them off with a bill or 2.
    Not that donations do not have their place, they do and unless you are poor too, easy to do.
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    Mar 12 2012: why people Love the Hate most??????????
  • Mar 11 2012: There are many technical solutions and ideas that can make an impact for the better.

    Ego aside, I think people can change the world in various good ways.... millions of children are starving, diseases that need curing, we may face water shortages, etc.
  • Mar 11 2012: The world can be changed for the better through technical solutions and ideas not yet invented that can help many, many people.

    Ego aside, I think people can change the world in various good ways.... millions of children are starving, diseases that need curing, we may face water shortages, etc.
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    Mar 11 2012: If you could do anything in the world , no limitations; what would that be? Then follow your heart!
  • Mar 11 2012: Here are a few questions I struggle with now...

    "How can I change the world, to make it a better place for XXX number of people?" XXX is yet TBD.

    "What kind of legacy will you leave? What can you do to be remembered (in a good way)?"
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      Mar 11 2012: you cannot change the world, only yourself, your attitudes towards the world and by smiling, accepting others as they are, compassion and love you will make an enormous difference in the world.
      Only the Ego feels a need to be remembered.
      • Mar 12 2012: I like your attitude!
        I think that you are right in a way. Now, I do think that you can also make a difference in more practical ways like Dave said.
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      Mar 12 2012: Hi Dave, thanks for the response. I guess that the XXX element could start with 1,yes?
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    Mar 10 2012: This one stumped me so I have to give credit to my wife: In freshman year of college, "what do you want to do?" not what do you want to major in...
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    Mar 9 2012: Would you like a promotion? Seemingly selfish and wish-fulfilling, it is a question which is rarely asked these days. In an effort for equality, all jobs are advertised internally and externally, everyone with an "equal" chance. People's performances in the workplace no longer count...people's knowledge of you's what's on your CV that counts. Introverts rarely go for promotion...they hate the trumpet-blowing, self-selling procedure which is a job interview. It is only the ambitious, power-hungry and extroverted who go for promotion. The world is full of quiet, unassuming individuals with enormous potential who are never appreciated. All of the credit goes to the loudest.

    Asking this question shows somebody that they have worth and are appreciated. It should be asked more.
  • Mar 8 2012: I think that the impact depends not only on the question itself but also on the person who asks. Don't you think?
    The question I've never been asked by anyone is...hmm...people not very often ask about important things. They are affraid to ask, maybe.
    So the question: "Is happiness important in life?"
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    Mar 7 2012: I have never been asked to be an organ donor: Can you share to make me survive?

    Needless to explain how this question brings your sharing culture to its limits. Our concept of individuality is built on the integrity and respect towards the body: two sides of one coin. But if you are voluntarily willing to inflict harm and risk to your live - to make another unknown person live. This question - and my answer would change my life fundamentally.
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    Mar 6 2012: Won't you accept this MacArthur Fellowship (the genius grants) to reward and further your project of educational innovation?

    God, just contemplating that question will probably keep me from getting any useful work done this afternoon :-D
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      Mar 7 2012: Thanks Erik, your answer made me smile.
  • Mar 6 2012: Are you really here?

    I think being asked that question would change my life.
    If someone were to ask me this question, that person would be doubting his/her own mind, eyes, reason, and perception. It would put me in a position to really grasp the instability of reality, and the knowledge that each person truly sees their own world before them.
    Answering that question would also teach me a lot about myself and life in general, in having to justify and prove my own existence.
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      Mar 6 2012: Crystelle, what an incredibly profound question . Thank you.
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    Mar 6 2012: Is this world your permanent abode ?
  • Mar 5 2012: "Do you love me more than anything else in this big wide world?" This one question, depending upon who asks it from me can entirely change my life I think. Philosophically and religiously, this question could come from an abstract entity or God himself. Coming from one of my people, my beloved, parents or from the whole of my nation, I think the answer to this question would shape my entire life. It would be the reason for all I do.
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      Mar 6 2012: Thank you for contributing this Farah .Very interesting .
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    Mar 5 2012: In conversation with Bill Gates, "can I give you 1 billion dollars".

    In conversation with a mugger, "No money .. How about if I just shoot you."

    A director, "Want to become rich and famous"

    A world leader, " I need your advice".

    A party Chairman, "would you run for president".

    The definative question is "Who are you?" Knowing yourself is one of the hardest things we are ever faced with.

    Good luck .... Bob
  • Mar 5 2012: Would you like $33 million dollars?

    I would answer YES! Then, I would open a "Mindful School" and provide an abundance of scholarships!

    My philosophical question is: What do you need to do before you die?
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    Mar 5 2012: For $1,000,000... can you spell "onomatopoeia"?

    Yes! Yes I can!

    I memorized the spelling of onomatopoeia when I was 15, thinking that someday, somewhere, and for some great reason, someone would ask me to spell it. I am 52 now, and this has not yet occurred.
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    Mar 4 2012: "What is something you love to do?"
    I've never personally been asked this question but I've heard it asked several times, certainly spoken about in many TED talks. However my response doesn't particularly answer your question because its less being asked the question that would change my future but knowing the answer.
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      Mar 6 2012: Aimee,

      What is something you love to do?

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        Mar 6 2012: Thank you for asking Aimee the question Mary, I was about to do the same! : )
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        Mar 7 2012: write? watch ted videos? and sit in the sunlight? I'm still figuring out what I love.
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    Mar 4 2012: So your question seems to be taking shape? excellent and thank you for thinking so deeply about it. It seems you might settle on a question which affords you the chance to fulfill and/or renew a potentially different 'self'...I think this is fascinating. Thank you very much for replying and giving me the name of this book. I shall read a copy.
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    Mar 3 2012: While I would have to think further about what the single question would be, as a first thought it would probably be a question of whether I would please accept an invitation to some grand adventure/experience that would transplant me from how I spend my days now to a new environment that for an extended time calls on my using different personal and environmental resources, requires me to learn new things, and has me interact with a diverse array of people the likes of whom have thus far not been in my sphere of contact. In terms of your interest in self-questioning, you may be interested in a new book entitled 344 questions that actually contains of 1800 questions. They are mostly connected to helping people live creatively or to align their behavior with their dreams for themselves. The questions do not focus on, say, deep probing into personal beliefs about the universe. I mention this last because, while their would be questions about ones purpose in life, there would not be questions specifically about spirituality or other large questions that would be most interesting and influential for many people.