As a kid, I always asked questions.
I’d ask why food looked the way it did after we cooked it. Or questions about how something worked — you know, typical kid questions.
But somewhere along the way, we stop asking questions and start finding answers. Questions become seen as annoying. Answers become marks of intelligence. No one wants to be that person constantly peppering people with questions. They want to be the one always providing answers.
And so, for years, we learn to only ask questions we can find the answer to. We stop asking meaningful questions — questions that require some serious thinking and reveal something we didn’t know. We started asking factual, intelligence based questions.
We see value from being able to provide answers to the questions others ask. Questions are good — but ask too many and it seems like you’re just unable to find answers yourself.
But over the last few weeks, one piece of advice has been coming up over and over.
The advice is this:
The theme of asking the right questions has come up in:
And Peter Drucker, popularly referred to as the Father of Management, has said, “the most important and difficult job is never to find the right answer; it is to find the right question”.
In short, what I’ve found is that the best and the brightest are always insatiably curious and know how to ask the right questions.
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and all the icons of innovation were undoubtedly extremely smart. But unlike our popular understanding of intelligence as a person hunched over books studying a variety of topics, none of them did much of that. Instead, the learned by asking the right questions to the incredibly smart people they surrounded themselves with.
Instead of hunching over thousands of books in expert topics, they asked questions to the thousands of experts they had around them. They learned what they needed to know from those who knew more than them. And the only way to learn what you need to know is to know how to ask the right questions.
Not only is this insanely more effective but it’s also more efficient. Learning by yourself in a room gives you knowledge. Learning by asking others challenging, effective questions helps both of you learn. That’s how true innovation is born.
Asking the right questions helps us get the heart of the matter. Because without asking the right questions, we can’t get the right answers. We’ll get some right answers to whatever questions we ask but not the answers to need to inform our thinking.
You may be thinking, “Okay all this sounds great, but how do I just magically start asking the right questions?”
Well, like all great advice, there’s never a magical formula. It’s a trial-and-error process of asking questions and seeing what you get from it. That being said, there are a few strategies to help you start putting questions at center stage:
We’re often inclined to hide the things we don’t know from the people around us. But when we hide it for too long, soon it becomes hidden to ourselves to. Asking the right questions means uncovering these gaps in our understanding again. So how can we find out what we don’t know? Try these few tips:
Often, we only ask questions when we think it’ll make us seem “smart”. This way, questions become reduced to a tool of signaling intelligence, “look at me asking a difficult question”. But those questions are often relatively trivial. Instead, ask questions that you genuinely do not know the answer to — even if others think it may be obvious.
Questions and answers are like peanut butter and jam — they go better together. So we’re often inclined to ask questions that are guaranteed an answer which are factual by nature. But often the best questions are the ones that force us to shift our perspective and rethink our assumptions. These questions don’t always have clear-cut answers. It’s the process of searching for an answer that makes the question valuable — not the answer itself.
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