Why are little kids so brilliant as non-stop question machines? It could be that they haven’t been around very long and know so little. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe they’re just not ashamed to ask. Kids will ask about everything from the mundane like, “What’s that?” to big questions like, “Why am I here?” or “Why do people wear clothes?” or “When I drink grape juice and pee, where does the purple go?” The problem is once they go to school, they stop asking questions and instead, start giving answers. School rewards those with the answers, no matter how limited those answers may be.
I’ve always been known as a curious person but I found it even happened to me. Only recently had I realized I’d never thought of things so fundamental as, “What is gravity?” I mean, I know what it does. I know what happens when I drop a watermelon off a roof. (I plead the fifth on that by the way.) But what is it REALLY? Which lead to other questions like, “Why does mass have gravitational pull in the first place?” And most importantly, “Why is it so weak compared to all the other forces?” But I digress. This post isn’t really about science. It’s more about the concept of questioning and why it’s so important to our daily lives.
Does it really make that big of a difference?
Isidor Isaac Rabi, the Nobel Laureate in Physics said that every mother on his block would ask their child upon coming home from school, “So, did you learn anything new today?” But not his mother. She always asked him a different question. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good QUESTION today?” He said that tiny difference became the catalyst in making him more curious about his world and made him one of the leading minds of his time.
Do questions give us more than answers?
It comes down to a simple fact. Answers are finite. They are important, but not as important as asking for them in the first place. Starting with a question makes you see the world and those within it as an asset. Asking, is what makes us human – the less hairy of the apes – if you don’t count Jason, our Creative Director that is. For as long as humans have been communicating with the Great Apes by using sign language (approximately 50 years), they have NEVER once asked US a question. Here they sit, communicating with another species! A species that clearly demonstrates a wealth of knowledge they do not possess, and they have never once been curious to know what’s going on in our heads. Joseph Jordania in his paper, “Who asked the First Question.” explains this by saying, they lack a fundamental “Theory of Mind.” Which essentially boils down to them not realizing, others separate from them, possess separate minds as well as separate information. As humans, modern life has trained many of us out of this birthright. Asking questions from those who know something we do not, is how we progress. It’s how we succeed both individually, and as a species. It gives us possibilities that having just the answers, does not.
Does it work in business too?
At William Joseph I recently posed a challenge to our staff. I wanted us to think differently. I wanted us to “Cultivate a Culture of Curiosity.” Businesses act much the same way that schools do. Answers are usually praised much more than questions. With time crunches and money on the line, people tend to narrow their vision to just the finish line, while missing out on better options just outside their field of view. Whether you’re a creative firm or even a financial company, asking questions makes a big difference to your bottom line. We all know very well how the financial industry could have used more questions than answers before the 2008 crash. But what about a creative firm? What kind of a question, if you only had one to ask, would be best? Something aspirational perhaps. Something that would encourage a person to challenge their status quo. Something that made them think differently.
HOW did I CHANGE the world today?
This is the question I want everyone in our office to ask themselves. Whether it be after receiving an email from a client, or writing a strategy, or designing a campaign from scratch. By asking this simple question, it allows for better answers. Better answers that will make better work. No matter how good we are, we can always do better, and this is just one more way we can put ourselves in the position to achieve this goal.
Start today, be human, stay curious, and ask a GOOD question. You never know where it will take you.