Who would you rather hire: someone who asks great questions, or someone who gives great answers? If you’re pursuing innovation, consider choosing the former. Great questions are the precursor to great answers.
Asking questions is a skill that’s been valued by innovators for centuries. “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing,” wrote Euripides, the ancient Greek playwright.
“The art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it,” said the mathematician and philosopher George Cantor.
Today, when we have access to unprecedented amounts of data, the ability to ask great questions is perhaps more valuable than ever. As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.”
Still, question-asking remains an underdeveloped skill set for many. When faced with a problem, most people immediately begin searching for answers, typically through a process like brainstorming. Sometimes this works well because the right question is embedded within the problem. Other times, it’s not always obvious which question(s) to ask. And this can be deceptively destructive, as the famous management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “There’s nothing more dangerous than the right answer to the wrong question.”
Fortunately, asking great questions is a learnable skill, one that’s central to the process of “question storming”, developed by Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center.
“Every innovator we interviewed—either in the business world, or the government world, or the social venture world—they all excelled at asking the right question,” Gregersen says. “They knew how to create a space and environment around them that let the new right question surface and emerge to take them down a completely different path.”
When you learn how to ask better questions, you not only improve the quality of your interpersonal relationships, but also the creativity of the groups you work with.