In an unprecedented age of access, information has never been more readily available… yet the challenge we now face is our ability to extract value. This article will explore the power of formulating targeted questions and how valuable answers increasingly rely on our ability to ask the right questions.

At present, there is undeniably a movement being experienced across major centres of innovation toward the notion of questioning – with the right questions being considered more valuable than the answers themselves… but how do we ask the right questions? Too broadly posed, our questions may cause us to veer off track, yet similarly, if a question is too targeted – valuable information may be omitted. How do we strike a balance?

When it comes to formulating the right question, we cannot understate the power of simplicity. With technology advancing more rapidly than ever before, coupled with the ease of access to information, we now find ourselves within the fast-paced realm of decision-making and problem-solving. Where simplified, targeted questions are seen as powerful tools to extract valuable answers whether engaging with an individual or conducting research – simple yet targeted questioning has proven to elicit the most value.

Consider the realm of recruitment. Whether recruiter or candidate – the interview process can be a daunting task. As a recruiter, how do you extract the most value from the candidate, and how does a candidate provide the right information, showcasing the necessary expertise? In many instances, the recruitment process begins with the atypical, “So if you could please provide a brief overview of your professional experience?” and in turn, many candidates proceed to fumble their way through a career highlight reel, hoping to highlight the skills and capabilities a recruiter may be looking for. What this scenario demonstrates is the destructive consequence of vague questioning. As a recruiter, asking a candidate to provide an example of a project where they have flexed a specific skill or capability that the role requires will undoubtedly answer the question of suitability and provide insight into the experience required.

Additionally, we cannot argue that simplified questioning does not drive clarity and understanding within the workplace and everyday life. Serving as a catalyst for effective communication, simplified questions can mitigate unnecessary complexity and ambiguity, driving more effective decision-making within an organisation by focusing on critical information. By asking clear, concise questions, we enable faster information analysis, which leads to greater efficiency. Considering the fine line between failure and success regarding timeous decisions, we can appreciate the value created. Particularly from a workplace perspective, simple questions can drive a sense of prioritisation and focus. Through this, teams and individuals can identify goals to be achieved – driving greater productivity within the business and fostering a mindset geared toward success.

So how do we ask these simple, targeted questions… and what makes a question a “question”?

At its core, a well-defined question is one with a clearly articulated objective. Understanding the concept of a ‘question’ and what constitutes a ‘good’ question is crucial for communication and acquiring knowledge. Extending beyond a mere grammatical construct, a “question” is a powerful tool that can be utilised to extract information, spark curiosity, and facilitate deeper understanding. In the absence of questions, we run the risk of misinformation, perpetuated confusion and a lack of direction.

When it comes to questions… simplicity is a potent force – serving as the bridge between confusion and clarity, indecision and resolution, and ultimately… failure and success. Through harnessing the power of simplicity, individuals and organisations alike can craft targeted questions that unlock invaluable insights.

In reflecting on many of today’s ground-breaking ideas, several can be traced back to a single, compelling question. Whether interrogating the status quo or considering the potential of a new trend, the power of simple questions lies in the ability to open up avenues for exploration and discovery. For instance, Adrian Slywotzky’s The Art of Profitability highlights the significance of questioning the implications of prevailing trends… by simply asking, “But what does that mean?”. To demonstrate this – when considering the implication of widespread smartphone ownership with built-in cameras and internet access, we are led to innovative solutions such as the creation of platforms for sharing and engaging with content, exemplified by the development of Instagram. This journey from a basic question to a transformative idea underscores the value of simplicity and curiosity.

Similarly, the story of Ray Kroc further illustrates the transformative power of merely asking “why.” As an appliance salesman, Kroc’s curiosity was piqued by a seemingly ordinary restaurant’s unusually large order for mixers. This simple inquiry led him to discover a thriving business model that he believed could be replicated on a larger scale. Que MacDonalds.

So, ask the question. Even a seemingly stupid one.

According to Warren Berger, renowned American author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, a 4-year-old child asks as many as 300 questions daily. Yet research shows that as we get older… there is the mass decline in questioning the world around us.

While there are many reasons we can attribute to this decline, the simple reason is fear. Fear of not being the smartest person in the room or not knowledgeable in the topic of discussion. This notion of asking “a stupid question” inhibits not only our ability to learn but, in turn, stifles the spark of potential innovation.

Interestingly, the most intelligent individuals often pose the simplest questions. Many readers may have encountered Malcolm Gladwell, an author, journalist, and public speaker, who delves into the intricacies of human behaviour, psychology, and social phenomena with notable works, including Outliers and David and Goliath. Through his work, Gladwell advocates the importance of following one’s curiosity rather than focusing solely on the pursuit of success. This philosophy, inherited from his father—a mathematician known for his openness and willingness to question without fear of appearing uninformed – highlights the significance of asking simple, direct questions to satiate one’s curiosity.

Ultimately, there is profound wisdom in embracing the so-called “stupid” questions. They are the silent engines that drive learning, clarity, inclusivity, and innovation. By valuing and encouraging a questioning culture, we foster environments where knowledge is shared and the potential for discovery and understanding is amplified. After all, the only truly “stupid” question is the one that is never asked.

So, how do we derive valuable answers? Well… the journey begins with the art of asking the right question. As we navigate through the digital age, with information at our fingertips, the skill of inquiry becomes our north star, and the art of asking the right question is not just about formulating the question itself but about fostering an environment where questions can thrive.

To master the art of questioning is to embrace a state of perpetual curiosity, uninhibited by fear, where targeted, simple questions serve to unlock invaluable answers. Ultimately, it is important to understand that in the complexity of our world, the simplest questions often lead to the most profound insights.

Sarah-Jane Taljard

Author Sarah-Jane Taljard

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