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QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life Hardcover – September 9, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

QBQ! by John G. Miller is a motivational primer aimed at purging the "blame, complaining, and procrastination" from the workplace. Miller believes that one of the hallmarks of today's business culture is a lack of personal accountability; he prescribes the cure in this series of short stories and personal observations drawn from his years of experience running his organizational development firm. His main point is that positive change begins with individuals changing themselves: "Instead of asking, 'When will others walk their talk?' let's walk our talk first." The result is choppy (39 chapters in 115 pages), and at times Miller's advice boils down to truism and cliché. Nevertheless, managers whose workplaces demand remedial, straightforward advice should find a useful tool here. --Harry C. Edwards --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This is a quick but deep book that explores the role of personal accountability in one's work and personal life. In his own work experience, Miller found that many people look for others to blame their problems and conflicts on. He proposes that instead of asking who is to blame for the situation, we should ask, "What can I do to improve the situation?" Only by being able to ask this "question behind the question" can we take ownership of the problem and start working toward a solution. Throughout the book, Miller (who has consulted for major corporations with his firm, QBQ, Inc.) recounts real-world situations—in customer service, retail sales, personal relationships and the corporate boardroom—and the positive and not-so-positive ways they were handled. Each example reinforces the message that personal accountability and ownership of a problem not only leads to a resolution but also lifts people willing to take ownership and action above those looking to play the "blame game." From responsibility, says the author, comes leadership and greater career opportunities. In one's personal life, Miller says, ownership of conflict can also lead to enhanced relationships and greater enjoyment of daily life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons; 1 edition (September 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399152334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399152337
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (592 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Hello, QBQ! fans - and believers in PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. If you want to contact me directly, just email!

Visit our main site here:

If you're looking for the newly rewritten QBQ! book, it's here at Amazon. Ignore the "2004" date in the Amazon description text. As long as you get the version with the gold star/burst on the front, you've got the right one! Inside the book it says "2004/2012" - and it is our best version yet.

Follow us on ...

Twitter @QBQGuy
Facebook: theQBQ
LinkedIN: JohnMillerQBQ

Big news!

My wife, Karen, and I (7 kids!) have just written "Parenting the QBQ Way - How to Be an Outstanding Parent and Raise Great Kids Using the Power of Personal Accountability." Good, practical stuff. Just think what can happen when we eliminate Blame, Victim Thinking, and Procrastination from our families! Buy it here at Amazon. Or learn more at:

My newest organizational book is titled "Outstanding! 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional"! Find it here at Amazon or at

I grew up in Ithaca, NY. Father Cornell U. wrestling coach for 26 years and a Christian pastor for 40. Mom was a homemaker. I am a Cornell University grad, 1980. Five years with Cargill as a commodity trader (grain).

Started in the training business selling leadership and sales management training in 1986.

Have lived in UpState NY, MN, MT, MO, MN again, and now CO. Moved to Denver in 1997 after 12 years in Minneapolis. Why? THE WEATHER!

Karen and I have been married since 1980 and have 6 daughters, one son, and five grandchildren.

I keynote meetings/conferences on "Personal Accountability and the QBQ!" Go here:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Meryl K. Evans on December 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
After reading a few pages, I'm hooked. This book takes about an hour to read and has a lifelong impact. The title implies exploring other questions based on the original question. However, the real story is about personal accountability in work and life.

Rather than doing what comes naturally for many of us and becoming defensive and pointing fingers, the book changes your mode of thinking from "It's his fault" to "How can I fix this?" For example, in a restaurant, a diner is waiting for his waiter to come to the table. He catches the attention of a waiter who says, "This isn't my table" and walks off. The diner can only hope the waiter went to alert the person who is responsible for his table.

A waiter who uses QBQ thinking would help the diner rather than dodging the table just because it's not his table. Such action has positive results on both the waiter and the customer.

In another story, a cashier pays for the customer's under $3 purchase as her register didn't have enough to provide change. This action resulted in the store getting 100 percent of the customer's business.

The book grabbed me and I applied QBQ thinking the day after reading it. It feels much better to take the QBQ route instead of responding defensively. Check the QBQ site for more examples and details ([...]
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By T SANTOSO on August 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book was recommended to me by a new friend Rini from BP, and i love it. I read it just in a two hours flight ( i am not a fast reader!), finishing it right when the plane landed, and i kind of feel very motivated and enpowered!

In the simple similar tradition of One Minute Manager, Fish, and other simple to read business book, this one has one great idea about how we should ask questions.

In a nutshell:
1. Begin with "WHAT" or "HOW", and not "Why", "When, or "Who".
2. Contain an "I"
3. Focus on Action.

So, instead of: " When are we going to be more competitive?", use: " What can i do today to be more effective?".
Or, instead of " Who will care as much as I do?", use "How can I communicate better?"

QBQ is a simple powerful technique that will improve the way you see life. John Miller has a whole organisation build into training it.

Even that the way they write is way different, i would like to compare the idea of QBQ as such similar power with One Minute Manager. It's easy to teach, easy to implement, and have great return if people start using it.

So, for 2 hours easy reading that might change your life for the better, you have nothing to lose, get a copy.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Michael Knudstrup on November 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
In The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Business and in Life, John G. Miller presents an alternative way to look at our problems (or challenges) and encourages us to ask different, but better questions about them.
Miller starts off by illustrating incorrect questions (IQ's). IQ's focus on things or people outside or external to us. Some examples might be "When will he learn to manage better?", "Why can't they see my point-of-view?", "Why can't they hire better workers?". IQ's tend to sap our energy and deflate our spirit.
IQ's do, however, seem to come naturally, perhaps as a result of human nature. Miller often asks groups of people what's the one thing they would like to change in their organizations. The answers always follow the external P's: that is, change the policies, procedures, prices, and other people. "Nobody ever says me." As an example, look at the following questions and see what is the first response that comes to mind.
-A poor subordinate blames the _____.
-A poor executive blames the _____.
-A poor driver blames the _____.
Although these thoughts or questions may be natural, they lead us into blame, complaining, and procrastination. Miller's solution is to discipline our thoughts and to look behind our initial questions to come up with better questions-or, as he terms it, the question behind the question (QBQ).
These are Miller's three guiding principles for better questions or QBQ's. Better questions:
1. "Begin with what or how (not why, when or who)."
2. "Contain I (not they, we, or you)."
3. "Focus on action."
A perfect example of a QBQ is "What can I do right now?" The essence of the QBQ system is that "the answers are in the questions".
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Cdilullo on January 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"The Question Behind the Question" only took about 30 minutes to read, and consists of several 'chapters' that are about 300 words each in length. Each chapter was short thoughts or anecdotes that are relational to the theme of the book, that 'personal accountability' is gone from modern society, specifically modern business.

Though I would agree with Mr. Miller that not nearly enough people prefer to take responsibility for problems, I believe that the book does a poor job of selling the theme of asking better questions and motivating employees to take more responsibility. Mr. Miller doesn't ever assert his point clearly, but rather darts around in a syncopated style that often leaves the reader thinking 'that was a neat anecdote, but why did he share it'.

On a grander scale, this is a management book, for management types who fall in love with self help books. For those types of managers, this book will seem like a godsend, because it focuses on the idea of making your employees want to work, which would be a common complaint from all managers. It also emphasizes the idea that its not the managers job to motivate them, or help them, but rather to ask specific types of questions that should lead their employees to their own idea of 'personal responsibility' about their jobs. I would argue that work is just that, work. And the only way people are motivated to work is by being paid.

Mr. Miller is a salesman, and a savvy one at that. He recognizes that managers complain about a lack of motivated employees, so he wrote a book that speaks to that point. If managers complained that not enough people wore green to work, he'd write a book about that too. His game is not making you a better boss, but selling more books.
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