If you’re a parent, teacher, caregiver, or someone that spends any amount of time with children then you know kids ask a lot of questions. Some studies suggest that kids can ask an average of 200-300 questions a day. That’s a lot. This begs another question: How did parents answer those questions before the golden age of Google (assuming these parents find the correct sources online)?
My husband reportedly asked a lot of questions as a child. He wouldn’t give up asking the same question until he received a proper answer. His dad once told me that my husband asked so many questions and he had very few answers so he took him to museums. “I sicked him on the staff in the museums and told him to ask as many questions as he wanted there.” A very good solution.
Once kids start going to school the amount of questions they ask begins to decline. In his book Cosmos, Carl Sagan said, “You go talk to kindergartners or first grade kids, you find a class full of science enthusiasts. They ask deep questions. They ask, ‘What is a dream, why do we have toes, why is the moon round, what is the birthday of the world, why is grass green?’ These are profound, important questions. They just bubble right out of them. You go talk to 12th graders and there’s none of that. They’ve become incurious. Something terrible has happened between kindergarten and 12th grade.”
Adults reportedly ask only a handful of questions in a day. Where has our penchant for wanting to know how everything works gone? What happened to our curiosity?
My mom once told me a story about a little girl who was helping her mother cook a roast beef dinner. She noticed her mother cut the ends off of the roast before placing it in the pot and putting it in the oven to cook. She had seen her do this many times before. This time she decided to ask her mom why and her mom replied, “I don’t know, that’s the way my mom always did it.”
Unsatisfied with this answer the girl called her grandmother on the phone and asked her why she cut the ends off of the roast beef before cooking it. The grandmother replied, “I don’t know, that’s the way my mom always did it.”
Still unsatisfied with the answer she received, the girl called her great grandmother on the phone (we can assume this woman was in a nursing home at this time) and asked her why she always cut the ends off of the roast beef before cooking it. The great grandmother replied “Well, my pot wasn’t very large, and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. If I didn’t cut the ends off of the roast beef, it wouldn’t fit inside the pot.”
Two generations had been wasting perfectly good portions of meat simply because they failed to ask one question.
There are several reasons why we don’t ask questions. We don’t want to be rude. We don’t want to be perceived as less than intelligent. We feel as though we should already know the answer.
In 2010, Eric Schmidt, then the CEO of Google, was a speaker at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA. He shared this fact: “Every two days, we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” According to Schmidt, that’s roughly five exabytes of data.
We live in an era where we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. We’re also living in a time where feelings and opinions are often confused as facts. This is why asking questions is increasingly important. Whether you think you know the answer or not, asking questions is how we get information. It’s how we eliminate confusion.
There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says,
“He who asks a question remains a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask remains a fool forever.”
The young girl asked a question. When she didn’t receive a sufficient answer, she went to another source and asked the same question. She did this again until she finally uncovered the truth.
Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology famously said,
“The ability to ask questions is the greatest resource in learning the truth.”
We need leaders who have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Continuous learning and growth are key to successful leadership. Asking questions encourages the exchange of ideas and propels innovation forward.
So ask questions and ask them often. Stay curious. Don’t throw away perfectly good cuts of meat because you want to save someone’s feelings or for fear of looking like a fool. With the price of food these days, you can’t afford not to!
Written by Lindsay Robb
Gasparotto Group helps organizations create cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams.