As you can read on basically every page on this web-site, I am a fan of (professional) curiosity, which basically means a fan of asking (inquisitive) questions. I recently caught myself being annoyed by someone’s questions. So, am I inconsistent (which would also be human) or is there another explanation?
Are all questions created equal?
In general, in my universe, questions are more interesting than answers. Spend more time on working your way towards a good question rather than coming up with the perfect answer. Put differently, the quality of the question positively influences the quality and relevance of the answer.
There are signs in common language that seem to put the spotlight on the superiority of simply asking questions: “There are no stupid questions”, “The only bad question is the one that is not being asked”, etc. Compelling, but is it actually true? And if not, how can you tell? And what does it mean for encouraging curiosity as key element of creativity?
The reason why
After some contemplation, without sinking in a deep philosophical sink hole, my conclusion for now is that there are in fact if not bad or stupid then in any case lazy questions. Questions that are born out of the attitude of not wanting to put any effort into putting pieces of the puzzle together yourself. Questions that are intended to provide you with immediate answers that you could have found yourself rather than ones that open the doors of Exploration.
How to tell
So, if not all questions should be celebrated, how to distinguish the lazy from the explorative ones? As with so many things, in part this is subjective. However, a few traits of lazy questions do seem to be: 1. They encourage convergent answers, the answer is specific rather than open, 2. The person asking the question should be able to discover that answer him/herself, without too much effort, 3. The relevance of the response is not high. In short, we are talking about just obtaining information, and asking someone else instead of exploring yourself is an easy way to get it. Explorative questions are almost the polar opposites: they open up our minds, they intentionally tap in a network that has added value and the response is only an invitation to ask more, deeper, richer questions, it’s not the end of the line
… and what to do?
Do I have a problem with lazy questions? Not necessarily. There is a time and place for everything. Like I say in creativity workshops: Depending on what information or insight you are after and the stage of the thought process you are in questions that close your world (Who, When) can make sense as opposed to ones that throw the doors open (Why, what (unintended) effects might this idea have) or ones that dig a little deeper but are aimed at finding some direction (How, What, what should a next step be).
So it depends on the situation. Duh. Anyway, are there bad questions? Perhaps but that;s a risk to take, if you are exploring. Are there bad ideas? Yes, but that is another topic. The point here is more, there are inquisitive and lazy questions. Neither of them is illegal, and all questions have a right to be asked. But I know which ones excite me more…
A very slightly modified version of this blog can be found on Medium.