Updated on 05.14.10

Review: QBQ!

Trent Hamm

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.

qbqContemporary culture constantly seems to push us to blame others. It’s the Republicans’ fault! It’s the liberals’ fault! It’s the art department’s fault! It’s your brother’s fault!

Guess what? Casting blame on others doesn’t solve any problems. It’s simply the path of least resistance – when there’s a complex problem, it’s easier to sit back and blame others than to do the hard work of trying to actually solve the problem or, even more painful, look at ourselves as the source of the problem.

That’s pretty much the idea behind QBQ by John Miller. QBQ is short for the Question Behind the Question. The book’s subtitle spells things out: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life.

The idea behind the book is that if you take every negative aspect of your life and reformulate it into a question or statement with you as the subject that describes what you did or didn’t do to lead to that negative situation, then you’re taking a big first step towards identifying what you can actually do to make the situation better. It puts the action imperative on you, which is good because, in the end, you’re the only person who can control what you do.

This book is divided into a lot of small chapters, so rather than reviewing each one, I’m just going to pull out some of the big, useful principles from this book.

Modeling is the most powerful of all teachers. Finding a mentor and modeling yourself after that mentor is simply the best way to improve yourself in your preferred field. Look for the person that is both liked and respected by everyone around him or her while also producing amazing work and then make an effort to emulate what they do. Don’t be afraid to ask them for ideas or suggestions or how exactly their workflow goes.

Stop trying to change others – change yourself, instead. It is extremely ineffective to make your peers change. If you want change to happen in the workplace or in your personal life, you have to take those steps yourself. End some relationships. Take the initiative. Start some new relationships. You have to make the change.

Accountable, successful people blame no one – not even themselves. When something goes wrong, it’s easy to start tossing out blame. Someone else messed up, right, so let’s blame them! In truth, placing blame is usually a waste of time. Instead, you’re much more likely to get the resolution you want by contributing to the solution to the problem.

Whenever you’re faced with a situation, question it by asking “what” or “how,” not “why,” “when,” or “who.” Saying “why,” “when,” and “who” simply lead to placing blame, not to solving the problem. Instead, when you’re faced with a challenging situation, ask questions that start with “what” or “how.” The answers to these questions actually provide useful information that lead to the resolution of the problem.

Contain an “I” in that question (not “they,” “them,” “we,” or “you”). “What can I do to help?” is almost always a great question to ask when you run into a problem. It leads directly to solving that problem without casting blame on the people around you.

Focus on action above all else. Passing along blame is passive – it doesn’t lead to any sort of resolution to the problem at hand. Instead, focus on action – what is it that you can actually do to solve this problem? The more directly you come to anwering that question, the better off you’ll be.

Don’t be a victim. If things are constantly going wrong in your life “because of other people,” you may need to step back and re-evaluate the situation. Is it the other people, or is it because you allow yourself to be a victim. Take charge of the situations around you. Work hard on what you need to work on and don’t worry about whether other people are doing their job. Don’t be a victim – don’t waste your energy blaming other people for your problems.

Communicate better – if you don’t understand them, it’s likely they don’t understand you. If a message is not being made clear, you may need to look at yourself instead of at the people around you. You can always improve your own communication by working to make your message more clear and making sure that you understand the messages you’re receiving.

The referee doesn’t win or lose the game. Blaming the rules of the situation isn’t a good choice, either. Your reaction shouldn’t be to blame the rules and then withdraw. You should instead try to figure out the best strategy to success within the rules then take action to make sure you follow through on that strategy.

Is QBQ! Worth Reading?
This is an excellent book for someone who is “in transition” to read. I think that if you’re a person who naturally blames others for all of their problems, this book won’t be of much help to you. Similarly, if you’re a person who naturally looks for ways to personally solve problems that occur and better yourself through those solutions, this book won’t teach you anything new.

It’s those people in the middle that really should read this one, people who have begun a journey of introspection and personal growth after realizing that the world is not out to get them and that they have the ability to create their own destiny instead of just blaming others and waiting for their ship to come in.

If you’re in that middle group, this is a fantastic read. It does a great job of discussing specific ways of interpreting situations around you and determining what you can do to make them better. Such processes benefit your professional, financial, and personal lives in countless ways every day.

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  1. Thanks, Trent. Glad you loved my QBQ! book! I actually think it’s god for ANYONE to read. Truly, any person regardless of their accountability level now can learn from QBQ! John G. Miller, John@QBQ.com

  2. Pedro Mader says:


    your post, and the book you reviewed, reminded me of a Biblical proverb (Pv 19:3): A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD. (bible.cc/proverbs/19-3.htm)

    So I guess you could say it´s not necessarily a modern thing to try to blame others for our shortcomings. Be it God, a boss, spouses, co-workers, parents or the economy, it is easier to try to put blame on others. If we take responsibility, that might mean we have to make an effort to get our own selves up.

    Great job, not only reminding us of the power of our actions, but also empowering us to take the necessary steps toward recovery.

    Best wishes to you and your family,

    Brasília, DF, Brazil

  3. deRuiter says:

    “Don’t be a victim – don’t waste your energy blaming other people for your problems.” Great philosophy! Don’t sit around assigning blame (usually to others!), instead start fixing what went wrong! Victims fail, problem solvers succeed. Your educational background, skin color, age, home life as a child, looks, all don’t matter when it comes to success. Anyone can succeed in America. The most important thing to do on any job is show up. Arrive a little early to your job, look interested, do what you’re told, don’t whine, moan and complain, do your job better than expected, look for the positives in your work or quit and get a better job. Improve yourself so you can improve your career. Don’t take $100,000. in student loans to get a degree in basket weaving or some other field in which you will never earn enough to pay back the loans, and you’ll succeed. Don’t take ethnic / gender studies classes, and if you’re forced to take some, don’t take them seriously. These are designed to encourage victimology, “You can’t succeed because of your sex / skin color.” Oprah managed to do nicely despite her sex, weight problems and skin color, because she worked hard, never believed people who told her she would not succeed, and has a winning attitude. I don’t watch Oprah (all those tears!), but I admire her dazzling success, for which she is personally repsonsible.

  4. deRuiter says:

    There is a great book called, “Use What You’ve Got & other business lessons I learned from my Mom” by Barbara Corcoran, who started with a handful of real estate listings she begged from landlords, and built one of the most successful real estate companies in America. She sold her company for over $46 MILLION dollars! Read Ms. Corcoran’s book and use what you’ve got to succeed.

  5. Mike says:

    I read this book and it really changed my life. I’ve always considered myself a positive person. This book challended me in the following way. I started to notice that I could get involved in idle or meaningless chatter about others. The question I learned to ask myself was: “How is what I am saying making the situation any better?” If I couldn’t give myself a good answer, I just learned to keep queit. So, that was my QBQ.


  6. Kristine says:

    I really liked – “Accountable, successful people blame no one – not even themselves.” It shifts the focus to the solution, instead of dwelling on the problem. If there is anything I have learned lately, it’s that our lives are a product of what we focus on. Thanks for the insights!

  7. GC says:

    great review. Thanks!
    I’ll put this on my reading list.
    This sounds a lot like Larry Winget, but without the “you can only blame yourself” part. That part didn’t quite sit so well with me. Maybe not with Larry either. Every concept has its limit.

  8. cj says:

    Best part:
    Focus on action -what can we do to solve this issue is a positive focus, moves things along and will in its way reveal how to prevent it again.

  9. Larabelle says:

    Thanks…I also plan to put this on my reading list. I love Larry Winget and I have a feeling I will also enjoy this book.

  10. veganprimate says:

    Sounds like a good book. There’s a woman at work who has tried to cultivate a friendship outside of work with me, and I don’t care for her, and it took me a while to figure out why, considering she has a lot of traits in common with people I do like. I realized it’s that she doesn’t take responsibility for anything and blames everything on other people or circumstances. I don’t respect that.

    However, I won’t go as far as the first commenter and claim that circumstances don’t matter. They totally do. Check out “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Very illuminating.

  11. Shi says:

    So why do you specifically label “Republicans” and then obfuscate Democrats by labeling them as “liberals”? In fairness, shouldn’t it be either conservatives v. liberals or republicans v democrats?

  12. RE Ramcharan says:

    Could you sort of flesh out the difference between “Don’t look for someone else to blame” and “It’s your own d*** fault”?

  13. Jason says:

    Easily one of my favorite books. My only gripe to you is why you didn’t recommend it to EVERYONE? I wish everyone would read this book! Or is it non-QBQish to suggest that? haha

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