Questioneering : the skill of asking incisive questions.
I have read and heard many anecdotes from the lives of great men and women and they have had a very powerful impact in shaping my mindset and worldview. One such story is about Isidor Isaac Rabi, the Physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in the year 1944 for his discovery of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Rabi was once asked what made him choose a career in Science. His reply surprised everyone. He said “My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference — asking good questions — made me become a scientist.”
The essayist Robert Louis Stevenson in his well known but short 2 page essay ‘ El Dorado’ ( http://web.thu.edu.tw/ccj/www/El%20Dorado-Robert%20Louis%20Stevenson.pdf ) says “ Desire and curiosity are the two eyes through which he sees the world in the most enchanted colours: it is they that make women beautiful or fossils interesting: and the man may squander his estate and come to beggary, but if he keeps these two amulets he is still rich in the possibilities of pleasure.” The essay closes beautifully with “for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”
Please watch this 18 minute video on why you should question everything? https://youtu.be/EmbwS-maS0A
Asking questions to make sense of the world is natural to us as children, until social conformity requires us to stop asking questions, especially from those in authority. It seems that children aged about 4 years ask the most number of questions. On average, kids under four ask an average of 73 questions per day, some over a grueling 14-hour stretch. But there was an instance of a 3 year old girl who asked her mother about 400 questions in a day.
We need to overcome the hesitation in asking questions and learn to ask better questions by appreciating the attributes of a good question.
It may come as a surprise to many that the Indian Constitution is perhaps the only one where the citizens have been cast a duty to ask questions.
Article 51A: FUNDAMENTAL DUTIES
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India-
(h) To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
Developing the spirit of enquiry and a Scientific temper begin with asking questions. That is why I began this piece on Questioneering ( the skill of asking incisive questions) with the story of Rabi’s mother checking whether he had asked a good question at School.
In a world where all the answers are known, or can be easily obtained, value is created by understanding what questions to ask. The single biggest mistake that many leaders are making in today’s disruptive environment is executing the right answers to the wrong questions. Questioneering introduces a decision making model to enable citizens of the digital age to discover the high-value questions and execute the high-value answers.
Clayton Christensen says that having a questioning mind is a key and fundamental attribute of an Innovator. Questioneering provides a new way of approaching complex problems and reaching break through innovation.
Questions are also an important mode of social interaction. Though ‘how are you is a greeting, not a question’, there are a number of questions that can be used to start a conversation with almost any person. Right now perhaps the most common conversation starter is the coronavirus. Here are a few examples of questions that may be good conversation starters, whether in person or in remote mode.
1: What are you most grateful for, right now, in this moment?
2: Working on any exciting personal projects lately?
3: What’s working well for you right now?
4: what do you do to get rid of stress?
5: What shows, podcasts, blogs or WhatsApp courses are you watching/pursuing right now?
6: What would be your perfect weekend?
7: What are you looking forward to in the future?
Sometimes the answers to questions may also change with time.
There is a delightful story about Albert Einstein. The story is that one year when he was teaching at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, it was time to set examinations. When Einstein handed over the exam papers to his teaching assistant, the assistant noted that it was the same paper that Einstein had set for that class the year before. The assistant queried the master, “Isn’t this the same exam you gave this class last year?”. “Yes, yes it is.” replied Einstein. Emboldened, the assistant asked, “But how can you give the same exam to this class two years in a row?” “Becuase,” Einstein replied, “the answers have changed”.
And Veblen observed that the outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before.
Asking questions has been listed at number 3 of 8 habits of quiet winners: https://medium.com/the-ascent/8-habits-of-quiet-winners-a38f7eca1599
They ask more questions than they give answers to.
Giving answers is boring to them. They prefer to ask questions and see where the conversation takes them. They see questions as a gateway to more ideas. And ideas have the potential to bring them closer to the next quiet win.
Nobody has all the answers. You don’t learn by giving answers. Quiet winners succeed by asking more questions than everybody else
Here is a link to a very interesting and stimulating article in the New Scientist on the biggest questions ever asked : https://www.newscientist.com/round-up/biggest-questions/
Descartes’s statement “ cogito ergo sum” became a fundamental element of Western Philosophy. “Thinking is just the process of asking and answering questions.”