Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Value of Naive Questions

Fortune magazine published an article recently that was titled, "The brilliance of asking incredibly naive questions." The article focuses on the work of Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.   Berger explains:

"In most meetings -- and in most everything we do in business -- we are usually trying to keep things moving forward and just 'get things done.' This is a natural impulse, and of course it's important to get things done and stay on schedule. The problem is, this leaves little time to question assumptions, as in, Why are we doing this particular thing? Have we really thought it through, and considered other possibilities?"

I think Berger is right about the "getting things done" mentality.   I would put it this way.  We often fixate on the "how" question - as in, how are we going to do this?   We often overlook at the more fundamental question:  Why are we doing this?  

The problem, of course, is that people are often afraid to ask the naive questions.  That's why leaders need to make sure they are asking these types of questions from time to time.  They accomplish two things when they pose such questions.  First, they might uncover some key assumptions and alternatives.  Second, they set a tone and an example.  They make it easier for others to ask such questions. 

One final thought - timing is everything.   You do have to consider the timing of your question.  You don't want to embarrass folks or become disruptive when you ask such questions.  You want to think about the audience, and consider how you may impact a colleague.   You certainly don't want to unintentionally undermine a peer or make them look bad.  

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