Are questions the new answers ?


One of the things that I reflect over frequently during my everyday interactions with my teams and clients is that the ability to ask good questions is way more important than having ready answers.

However, our education system rewards us for having the answer, not for asking a good question. This conditioning may explain why children who start off relentlessly asking endless “why” and “what if” questions to their parents, gradually ask fewer and fewer of them as they progress through school.

A few years ago, Newsweek carried an article about America’s “creativity crisis”. Below is an excerpt from the article that highlights this trend -

Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions."

In the professional world, this trend manifests itself in the elusive search for expertise when it comes to solving business problems.

In today’s business environment of exponential change, answers can change overnight. Those who continually ask exploratory questions increase their odds of anticipating what’s coming and are able to see the emerging patterns of change that others fail to notice.

Nowhere is it more evident than the silicon valley, where startups and established incumbents alike are furiously exploring newer and newer questions. A great example is Uber that questioned the regulatory status quo and successfully disrupted the established taxi industry.

To establish a culture of inquiry, the biggest challenge for any company is to start valuing “questions” over “answers”.

What does your company value?

Published on LinkedIn 9/16/14