Have we forgotten the power of why?

Published on Tuesday, 14 May 2019 by Isla Prentis in Marketing

Isla Prentis, Business Unit Manager at The MediaShop

For those of you who have read The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy … the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42, as calculated by the supercomputer. There’s just one problem, a big problem – no one knows the question.

This always makes me think back to when I was an inquisitive child. Remember when you were a child (or if you have your own child, the memory may be a little fresher) the number of times we ask the question ‘why?’. At what stage in life do we shift out of this habit? In the frantic race for the answers, have we forgotten how to ask questions? Forgotten how to discover the unknown?

“We’ve always done it like that”

“When I was a kid, we used to do that all the time and we turned out just fine”

“We know it works better this way”

These are just a few of the phrases that we hear all the time in work, and in life. These phrases really get my back up. Why you may ask – or at least I hope you ask. Well because so often it is this thinking that holds us back from questioning why we do what we do, and if we don’t question everything around us, then we won’t realise that there are better solutions out there that we have not yet discovered.

In the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, if all we can do is replicate what we already know, are we not making ourselves redundant and vulnerable to having a machine replace us? I started to explore this thought a little more and came across the below comparison from the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs Report – it reminds me how dangerous it is for us to just focus on answers. When we teach people what to think, we’re preparing them for the past… when we teach people how to think, we prepare them for the future.

OK, so I’m pretty sure by now you agree that we all need to lean forward a little more and question the world around us. So with a new item added to our to-do list I set out to find the best way to kick us off. I asked myself what habits we need to create to become champion questioners.

I entered into Google “tips for asking questions” and started to read through lists and tips but soon realised that the focus was asking questions for individuals. Not quite what I was looking for – so I thought I’d adapt the many lists into a list that focuses on tips to become an effective habitual questioner.

1. Forget everything: that might sound a little extreme but the only way to avoid repeating the known, and avoiding stereotypes is to start with a blank page. Allow yourself to think fresh thoughts, and learn new information. History can always be a point of comparison at a later stage.

2. Plan your questions: start by understanding what it is you are trying to find out. This helps you understand what it is you are looking for, and kicks you off with a focused starting direction.

3. Go off plan: yes, I did just tell you to set a plan, and plans are a great way to set you off in the right direction but can create a rigid path that might prevent you from discovering the unknown. So never be afraid to ignore the plan as you go and trust your instincts.

4. Ask open questions: closed questions close off paths of discovery. Open ended questions expand exploration. That doesn’t mean that questions need to be complicated – the simplest questions are usually the most powerful.

5. Dig deeper: absorb what you are learning as you go and use these new learnings to ask new, and different questions. Asking questions is a journey, and not all about the final answer.

6. Share your thinking: ask your questions to someone else – no matter how many angles we apply, the best way to add a new filter is to bring an additional person into the equation. Find people who think like you, but also find people who don’t think like you so that you can be challenged – create a tribe of inquisitive minds.

In closing what I’m suggesting is that we should all learn to behave like a child again… ask why? why? why? until you are blue in the face – and then maybe just a couple times more.

When you receive new information play with it like it’s a new toy – play with the information in every way possible until you find the way that brings the most joy. Learn from every situation you are in – no matter the situation. Discover new solutions without fear of judgement. Challenge the world we live in and the constructs that have been set before. But mostly, don’t be afraid to take a risk.

So I leave you with the challenge to question, play, learn and discover. Re-ignite the inquisitive mind from your childhood, and never let it go.

Last modified onThursday, 09 May 2019 10:30