Written by Nicolas Le Roux

The Question Is As Important As The Answer

When I was a child, I asked my parents one question every night before going to sleep.

It was a way for me to learn more about the world. I was insanely curious about everything. Today, I wonder why adults tend to ask fewer questions than children. Is it a lack of curiosity? Or maybe our society blames those who ask questions?

Questions are as valuable as answers

Charles De Gaulle — one of the most important French politicians of the last century — often asked questions to people surrounding him in the government.

More than asking for advice, he used to ask questions for which he already had an answer. The point was not to find an idea to solve a given problem — he already had many ideas. The goal was to challenge his ideas by insinuating he didn’t have any clue how to answer the question. The action itself of formulating a question was already a step to change his mind.

In opposition to the former French President, most people first give their ideas and then ask a question: “so, what do you think?”. This process is the best to nip in the bud the creativity and intellect of those you are asking. Doing so, you prevent yourself from accessing great new ideas.

Every questions should be open. Closed questions always get bad answers.

People asking many questions are often seen as dumb

Unfortunately, in our society, it’s much more “valuable” to answer questions instead of asking them. For example, many people show their expertise answering questions on the internet.

The tyranny of answers

So many article titles are questions to attract the readers’ attention. Then, one unique answer is imposed to everyone. Worst of all, we sometimes forget the initial question. The answer is slowly taking the lead…

Quora illustrates perfectly the tyranny of answers upon questions. Their slogan is the following:

“The best answer to any question”

What if we reverse it?

“The best question to any answer”

Well… It may be strange to put it that way but it’s enlightening. Clearly, Quora emphasizes answers.

I think they are wrong. Great questions can unleash a powerful creation of new ideas. A great answer to a bad question is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.

Is Quora the only one to overvalue answers?

Quora reflects our society, obsessed by answers and not really paying attention to questions. In fact, it’s often seen as a bad thing to ask too many questions. Have you ever wanted to ask something but didn’t because you were afraid to sound “stupid”?

Al Gore, in a talk he gave about climate change, told the following story:

During his grade-school years, a fellow student asked his geography teacher about continental drift; in response, the teacher called the concept the “most ridiculous thing [he’d] ever heard.” — The Inconvenient Truth

If all the children were laughing after the question, the answer was taken seriously by everyone. The fact is it’s a lot harder to ask the right questions than to give a common accepted answer.

In comparison, during the Classical Greek period, Socrates was using questions both to make an argumentation and to make his interlocutor think. Obviously answers mattered, but questions were equally important.

Last thoughts

Questions are the product of curiosity, and curiosity is maybe one of the most valuable traits today. We tend to forget how powerful questions are to build a better world. We have so many answers for everything that we are forgetting to ask the right questions. We are also forgetting to question the questions themselves and their answers. How many polls have a bias in their question to influence the result? How many answers could be better if we were asking the right questions?

I will not ask you what you think about this article.

Is the question as important as the answer?