“Why is the sky blue?”
“Where do babies come from?”
“Why can’t I have one?”
Countless television advertisements, and sit-com scenarios, have played on the situation of a young toddler inundating their parent with questions.
Although it is often exaggerated for comic effect, it plays on a truth that any adult who has spent time with a three year old will have learnt: Toddlers love to ask “Why?”.
At times, their questions can become exasperating, as they continue in a never-ending chain of causality, attempting to discover the ultimate reason for everything. Children don’t seem to settle for easy answers as well, as they continue in their quest of questions.
A 2009 study from the University of Michigan explored the questions that 2 to 5 year olds asked, and revealed that toddlers have an innate desire to discover truth. Children are asking these questions for explanations, as they are beginning to actively engage with their world, and are trying to discover how everything is linked - and the best way to live in their environment.
Just as Sherlock Holmes once critiqued Watson by telling him, “You see, but do not observe”, so we forget the importance of inquiry and conversation in discovering more about our product, process, constituents and environment. The business world has been shrunk into executive statements, which aim to give a sufficient amount of information to make decisions - with anymore information regarded as superfluous.
Learning and creativity, however, are founded in inquiry and conversation. If we want to develop new ideas and processes, we must recognise that this will only happen when we begin to ask new questions, and have new conversations with others. New ideas do not arise if we maintain the status quo.
Many organisations have a culture that says, “Know enough”. Employees need to know only how to do their job, not how others do theirs. When they begin to inquire, they are given just enough information to satisfy, but not enough to allow their inquisitive nature to flourish. We often do this to ourselves - attempting to satisfy a big question, with a quick trip to Wikipedia.
If we want to create a culture of learning, we must actively pursue new questions and new conversations. They are tools available to help you ask inquisitive questions that will open your mind to new possibilities, but here are some brief ideas to start your thinking.
“Why?” questions are excellent catalysts to leading the brain into new areas of thought. They cannot be answered with simple closed statements, and they are searching to use prior knowledge to discern new knowledge. Spending ten minutes to jot down ten simple “Why?” questions about your product, services, culture, structure and constituents may lead to substantial new areas of consideration.
Go Outside Your Scope
Modern business theory is based on engineering principles, with each part knowing how to do it’s role well. This is excellent for efficiency, but does not foster new ideas. Begin to ask questions outside of your scope of responsibility and knowledge.
For example, if you work in the HR department, ask excellent “Why?” questions about the way your product is marketed. If you work in top-level management, ask “Why?” questions about the way entry employees do their jobs. This is not done in a critical sense, but with an open and inquisitive mind.
Form A Quiz Team
Although forming a pub quiz team from your organisation can be a whole lot of fun - that is not what I am referring to here!
After you have come up with some excellent “Why?” questions, ask them to a group of people that you know have similar natures to yourself. Share your questions and your discoveries, and continue to encourage more questions from each other. A question asked with three people will generate much more ideas, opinions and new questions than one simply asked to yourself.