Its important to ask questions, but we seldom do so in our work and even in personal lives. We live in a culture where, “Know your job, do your work, and if a problem arises, solve it and don’t bother us with a lot of questions.” is the measure of success.
Companies in many industries today must contend with rapid change and rising uncertainty. In such conditions, even a well-established company cannot rest on its expertise; there is pressure to keep learning what’s new and anticipating what’s next. It’s hard to do any of that without asking questions.
Asking questions can help spark the innovative ideas that many companies hunger for these days.
One might assume that people can easily ask such questions, given that children do it so well. But research shows that question-asking peaks at age 4 or 5 and then steadily drops off, as children pass through school (where answers are often more valued than questions) and mature into adults. By the time we’re in the workplace, many of us have gotten out of the habit of asking fundamental questions about what’s going on around us. And some people worry that asking questions at work reveals ignorance or may be seen as slowing things down.
Leaders can also encourage companywide questioning by being more curious and inquisitive themselves. This is not necessarily easy for senior executives, who are used to being the ones with the answers. I’ve noticed during questioning exercises at some companies that top executives sit in the back of the room, laptops open, attending to other business; they seem to think their employees are the only ones who need to learn. As they do this, these leaders are modeling precisely the kind of incurious behavior they’re trying to change in others.
They could set a better example by asking “why” and “what if” — while asking others to do likewise. And as the questions proliferate, some good answers are likely to follow.
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