March 2, 2017

Three Questions Only You Can Answer

Kids are natural born questioners. Fearlessly pursuing their curiosity. As kids we would ask “Why?” repeatedly and without a moments hesitation.

Most of us wore our parents out asking why? Then as parents, we faced the same onslaught of curiosity. “Dad, why is the sky blue?” I still don’t know why the sky is blue but I do know that questions are powerful.

Questions act as a neurological stop sign that commands our full attention because the brain cannot hold two thoughts at the same time. Therefore, a question serves to interrupt our thought process and focuses on securing an answer. While questions are the seeds of curiosity capable of yielding growth, improvement and innovation as adults we like to avoid them.

Why we don’t like questions.

  1. They stretch us to think beyond our level of knowledge or comfort.
  2. Questions can hold us accountable to our commitments and expose poor choices.
  3. They will expose gaps in knowledge and understanding.

Thinking is hard work and disruptive.

Thomas Edison, the great inventor said, “The reason people do not think is because it is hard work.” Great questions push us to think beyond the obvious and convenient which is the reason the mind challenged with a question does not retreat to its previous state.

Based on research conducted at Harvard University, kids from age two to five ask 35 to 40 exploratory questions a day. It is no surprise that these are the ages we experience our greatest growth and development.

In contrast, adults may not ask or be asked a single exploratory question on any given day.

Questions drive accountability.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Questions lead us to examine what we are doing and how well we are performing.

When we are performing below our level of commitment we don’t want to be asked any questions. Especially when the question is simply “Did you do your best?” and you know in your heart-of-hearts the answer is, “No.” Think of it this way, when you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you, it’s a good indication they’ve given up on you. That is a bad place to be.

We love to talk about and focus on our victories and successes. It’s only natural to want to avoid questions about our poor choices. But wrestling with questions about these failures and shortfalls is how we truly learn and grow.

Expose gaps in knowledge.

Ignorance is not bliss—it is uncomfortable and sometimes painful. If we are viewed as a subject-matter expert it is very difficult to admit we do not have the answer to a question. Curiosity is the seed of all great innovation and growth. Ian Leslie in his wonderful book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It says, “We confuse the practice of curiosity with ease of access to information and forget that real curiosity requires the exercise of effort.”

We want to look good in every situation. We believe our value rises when we have answers which feeds our instincts for self-preservation. A great leader and mentor of mine pulled me aside after a meeting in which I tried really hard to answer a question I had limited knowledge about. He said, “Jim, the question might be more important than the answer.”

Great leaders and thinkers are more interested in asking the right question that encourages exploration and deep thinking rather than responding with a quick answer.

What are the best questions?

To identify the “best” is obviously relative in many ways. But if a question has the ability to broaden our vision and help us embrace our uniqueness the answer shouldn’t be discoverable using a “Google search.” The best questions should push us to discover how we use our unique gifts and talents to raise our impact and influence.

Here are three questions only you can answer.

  1. What do I want to learn?
  2. How can I get better?
  3. What do I give?

You don't want a million answers as much as you want a few forever questions. The questions are diamonds you hold in the light. Study a lifetime and you see different colors from the same jewel.

—Richard Bach

Oh, and the sky is blue on a clear cloudless day-time sky because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light.

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