I’ve read — a lot. And I continue to read — a lot. And I probably will keep reading — a lot. From this reading (and experience) I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve read a variety of opinions on a variety of subjects. After all of this reading, patterns start to emerge. You start to see the same thing being written, but in a different context. Or, you start to see the same thing written, but with a different twist. There are lots of different ways that people have developed to help make us perform better, be better, or feel better about ourselves. One of the things that I’m surprised I don’t see written about more often is the powerful effect of asking good questions. To me, it as to be one of the most important things you can do.
Why? Well, because in some cases, it’s all you have.
There are different scenarios where we could discuss how asking good questions serves you well: job interviews, “ask the experts,” crisis response, etc. Instead of going down that road, I want to talk about why I think asking good questions (generally) is an important thing.
There’s the idea that if you ask a good question, you may impress (unintentionally) the person you’re talking to and as a result, you may seem smarter to them than you actually are or you may be memorable. While that’s all well and good and may be a motivating factor for some to ask good questions, I’m more interested in asking good questions because I think it’s one of the unique ways that we can contribute (to the world).
As I mentioned above, I’ve done a lot of reading. As a result of that reading, I have a unique perspective on whatever conversation I’m in because it’s unlikely that there will be someone else like me in the conversation who has interacted with all the different things that I have interacted with. And so because of this, the ideas or thoughts that I may have about a given subject will likely be different from the rest of the people in the conversation. I may see connections that no one else sees or that no one else considers (but may be obvious to me because of what I know). In that sense, it’s almost like it’s my duty or obligation to come up with an intelligent question that incorporates that perspective.
I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating asking questions for the sake of asking questions. The question should still be meaningful and add value to the discussion. I’ll give you an example.
This summer, I had the chance to ask a question of the former COO of Obama for America (as he had just been hired to the organization I was working for this summer). Because of this person’s unique work experience, I thought he would be able to provide perspective on organizational structure. Specifically, whether or not a “Team of Teams” approach may work in the private sector. In my question, I also made reference to the (then) recent news at Barclay’s and JP Morgan Chase. In asking the question, my plan wasn’t to impress the person answering the question nor was it my intention to impress the crowd. In fact, the question was read as (anonymous). Ironically, after the question was read, there was a bit of a gasp from the crowd and the person answering the question sort of laughed about starting off with an “easy” one.