On Questions

Sibu observes that not only our quantity but also our quality of questions also goes down as we age….and asks how can we consciously reverse the same?

Excellent post Sibu. I think we lose this ability to ask great questions because we have forgotten how to still ourselves and look at ourselves deep within. Questions like creative impulses come from deep within. In the humdrum of our day to day existence, we have started living very mechanically. As we grow up, we build filters in our mind and we listen through these filters. We accept something that falls within the bandwidth of the filter and reject everything else. Just observe this phenomena….we claim we are open to the world, but in reality our reaction to the world is something that is pre-conceived and pre-meditated. So how would creativity blossom when we have a closed mind? That is not the case with Children, they are so very spontaneous because they are living in the moment. Adult hood robs us of this innocence and with it out goes all the creativity. And very specifically I blame our education system in India that does not allow us to question our teachers, our parents, our culture, our value systems etc and that’s why you have a team Sibu that is not so curious to ask more questions. You see we kill that curiosity at a very tender age. That is the reason why clients complain that they don’t see push back happening. That’s why you see that projects go haywire because none in the team questions the leadership on the path taken. Very recently my kid (age eight) got up in the maths class to ask a question and was shouted down by the teacher who had very little patience to even listen to the question, forget answering it. So here we are trying to make sure that our kid is curious, open to learning, open to wondering and on the other hand we have teachers who resist questions in classroom. Anyway…

I had written about Questions in my previous posts. [Learning Leadership] and [Lest ye be as Little Children]

Leading with Questions by Michael Marquardt is a book that I would highly recommend to all Managers. Consisting of three parts, it starts with setting the premise as to why questions are can be so powerful for individuals and Organizations. He examines why leaders prefer to provide answers rather than ask questions and how limiting – and disastrous – that can be. (and we have all seen that, right Sibu? 😉 ). In Part 2 he offers practical guidance on asking questions effectively, examining how one’s attitude, mindset, pace and timing all affect the impact of asking questions {The Art of asking questions!) and the final part is all about guiding leaders on using questions to achieve specific results for individuals, teams, and organizations. I keep going back to it ever so frequently to see what else I can learn.

The other book that I have read on questions is “Change your questions, change your life” by Marilee G. Adams With such a catchy title there was no way I was going to not buy this book. And more importantly I bought this because it had a foreword from Marshall Goldsmith – author of “What got you here, won’t get you there” (Another must read!) This is written in a novel like fashion where the protagonist is promoted to a new position in Management, unable to cope, he decides to resign. His Manager steps in and introduces him to a coach who helps him make the transformation needed in both his professional and personal life.

Several Management books that I have read talk about the importance of questions. Ram Charan in his latest book “Know-How” writes:

“It is essential to be able to navigate a full range of altitudes from the 50,000 foot level of conceptual thinking to the worm’ eye view, probing the messy details of a situation. Early in your career you have to concentrate on the details of your job. As you rise you become more concerned with the big picture and high concepts. But your use of the know-hows is better when you are able to do both: think in terms of concepts but also drill to the specifics. You see this ability in leaders who ask probing questions that hit on exactly the right points or unearth the critical but unspoken assumptions, and in those who can cut through complexity. Many leaders love the world of big ideas but can’t link them to the specifics of how they will be achieved or how they will make money. Their questions are too broad and general rather than incisive. On the other hand, some leaders are so focussed on the details that they miss the forest for the trees. Either extreme can be damaging….

Way back in 92 I purchased a book called “The Complete Mental Fitness book” by Tom Wujec. He introduced me to the concept of “What if thinking” in a very delightful way by asking hypothetical questions. Some examples:

  • What if time ran backwards? (Would our sense of good and bad change?)
  • What if we lived to 600 years? (Would be take more risks? How would it affect our financial planning)
  • What if there were three sexes instead of two (how would families changes?, Would there be more or less Gender discrimination?)

More importantly, progress on spiritual path begins with the most fundamental question – Who am I? This question opens the gate to dive deep within. Very interestingly, most of the scriptures and tales are an outcome of questions being asked. Ashtavakra Gita – described as one of the most unique conversations to have taken place on this planet – starts with a question being asked by King Janaka to Sage Ashtavakra. Guruji (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ) explaining the Ashtavakhra Gita says that on the spiritual path it is important that questions that are asked should meet the following criteria- “proper questions, asked at the proper time and with proper attitude” only then does the knowledge flows. Very interestingly, to experience the power of questions, one should do the Art of Living Part 1 course.

More later!

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4 thoughts on “On Questions

  1. Raj,
    Excellent rejoinder. Einstein famously said “What questions you have more important than what answers you have”. BTW, the link you provided to your old typepad blog does not work.

  2. Pingback: Unanswerable Questions « Niranjani: Perspective on Life, Meditation, Spirituality….

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