Don’t Just Question Answers. Question Questions

In April 2014, I wrote an article titled “Why You Need to Question Answers”. Somehow though, I’ve known all along that this message doesn’t go far enough.

True, most answers bare examination. But the best answer is limited by the question that has been asked.

Some of the greatest minds in the world of any given age, have been wrong on the great questions of their day. And not because they were any less brilliant than we know them to be. It is either because of the limitation of knowledge when they were around or simply because the questions they were answering were wrong!

And I’ll let you into a little secret. We’re still limited in our knowledge, and still trying to answer some flawed questions.

Of course, the problem with questions and answers aren’t limited to phraseology and expertise…

Cat’s Eyes and Echo Chambers

Sometimes, the problem isn’t that the wrong question was asked. It’s that the right question was asked, but to too few people or too narrow an audience.

“How do we stop cars from straying into the next lane”, is a great question.

Ask a car manufacturer, and they’ll no doubt seek gadgets that can sense road markings.

Ask a paint manufacturer, and they’ll surely suggest luminescent paint.

But ask Percy Shaw, a regular Joe, and you get a simple invention based upon a reflecting lens patent, that has saved countless lives in many countries.

In this particular instance, the invention, cat’s eyes, was just too good, and it gained traction. But how many Percy Shaw’s are out there, who have nothing to do with a given industry?

How many people who have no expertise in a given field, might actually offer a simple answer that the eggheads keep missing?

What? How can someone with no experience in something find a solution to a nagging issue? Ridiculous concept?

Pre-Conceived Notions

I have advice that I offer to everyone going for his or her second job. When people learn something new, they are likely to think they know exactly how something is done. I tell them to expect their new employer to have a lot of different ideas, and that they must open their minds to those ideas. I warn them that their instinct will be to think the new employer is doing things wrong. And ultimately, nobody may be entirely right or entirely wrong. The newbie has built a silo for themselves, and I try to warn them of the world outside of it.

Of course, silos are not the sole domain of newcomers. There are plenty of people who reach the pinnacle of their field, who build a silo once they reach that peak.

Or you could be in that very broad area that most of us exist in. Ask anyone within our eco system, doing Content Marketing, how you do Inbound Marketing, and you’ll get a narrow range of responses. But there’s something a little funny. Because Jan and I met someone who nobody in our world has ever heard of, and who has heard of nobody in our world. And this guy is doing Inbound really successfully. And it’s quite the revelation! Because he doesn’t read who we read, he knows what works for him, rather than what everyone is being told works. And he’s more successful than anyone else that we’re aware of.

What? You mean our common wisdom isn’t all there is to know? I know! It’s shocking, right? (Can anyone detect the intended sarcasm there?)

What’s Your USP?

In February 2014, I wrote “Context Broadens Audience. Questions Broaden Discussion”. With hindsight, I can say perhaps the title wasn’t one of my best. But there are some quotes in there that I’m quite proud of. Like this one, which highlights the point I was making above:

Templates and roadmaps are a wonderful means for people to achieve known objectives. But they also set the boundaries within which those objectives can be achieved. They reinforce the limits of our experience.

If the limit of what we strive for is to repeat what others have previously proven, we can never hope to improve on anything that has been done before. So what is our USP?

A Youthful Fable

When I was perhaps 20, and a long time fan of Aesop, I came up with my own fable. It was the story of the wrist and the hand.

The hand did everything and got all of the recognition for everything that was done. And the wrist got upset. After all, what could the hand achieve if the wrist did nothing? So the wrist went on strike. And the hand could do far, far less!

Which Brings This Article Full Circle

We place much emphasis on answering questions. Great answers have shaped society for centuries at a time. And then, the question was proven wrong!

Don’t just question the answers you hear. Question the questions. Give questions the respect they deserve. Neither be bound by the answers others have provided, nor the questions they were answering.

Let’s Ask Each Other Questions!

A slightly different , fun request for comments here. Ask a question. Any question. And I’ll respond with a question of my own, rather than an answer. Let’s frame a great question together.

Additional reading: The Power of Question Circles and Why You Need Them [Infographic]

Featured image: Copyright: ‘https://www.123rf.com/profile_artqu' / 123RF Stock Photo

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