by Jim Bruce
Kids ask questions in order to learn about the world in which they live. And, sometimes they will answer their own question to show-off what they know – for example, my great-granddaughter holding out a stuffed rabbit and saying “rabbit” – and sometimes they want you to tell them. As they grow older, their questions may give you an opportunity to propose additional questions they might be asking.
For example, Mary Thérèse Durr, a Boston College alum of the leaders program, tells the story of her then 11-year old daughter asking if she could date. The daughter expected an immediate, emphatic “NO.” Instead, MT asked, “What does ‘dating’ mean?” “Talking in the halls and sometimes holding hands” which yielded the response “Yes.” Years later, walking downstairs to go to school in a “short, short, short” skirt, MT asked, “Do you think that’s a good skirt to wear to school?” Defiantly, her daughter answered “yes.” And, all day at school she was uncomfortable wearing that very short skirt. “She never wore it again.”
For children, it’s helpful in their development for them to hear examples of the questions that they might ask themselves and others as they grow, learn, and develop. This is also equally valuable for adults. Asking questions of yourself will cause you to pause and make sure you’ve taken all aspects of the issue at hand into consideration.
Now, kids are much better at asking questions than are adults. No matter where they are or who they are with, they are always asking questions. Mark Suster,1 entrepreneur turned venture capitalist reports that it’s estimated that 70-80% of kids’ dialogue is question-driven. Some studies have shown that they ask an average of 300 questions a day with a 4-year old averaging 400.2 Yet, their parent’s, and other adults’, dialogues are only 15-20% question-driven. And, this low percentage appears to be true in all aspects of an adult’s life.
Why is it that when we get older, we stop asking questions? Could it be that:
Yet, great inventors, scientists, and leaders focused more on questions than answers: Sir Isaac Newton asked, “Why does an apple fall from a tree?” Einstein asked, “What would the universe look like if I rode through it on a beam of light?” Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and Alphabet, said “We run this company on questions, not answers.”
So, while we may not aspire to be this profound, what might we do so that we ask more questions and help our team members ask more questions, as well? Here are four suggestions from Steve Goldstein3 and Tanveer Nasser.4
It’s important that we each learn how to ask questions that are effective, that inspire us to think in new ways, to expand our range of vision, and to enable us to more effectively contribute to the endeavors in which we are involved. Perhaps you’ll take some time to reflect on this and begin this new practice today. And, as a check, you might ask yourself at the end of the day, what was the most important question you didn’t ask that day and why did you not ask that question.
Make it a great week you and those you lead.
. . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
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