Children’s natural curiosity is essential to their development and learning. But as we grow older, we slowly stop asking questions because social norms and our education system begin to tell us that questions stem from ignorance. Rather than embracing questions as an opportunity for growth, many of us are conditioned to hold back our curiosity in favor of not asking a “stupid” question. This conditioned fear of embarrassment, however, holds many people back from reaching their true potential.
The good news is that we can reignite our natural curiosity by learning to ask the right questions. Doing this can lead to two very important abilities: the power to solve problems and the power the build strong relationships.
The Power to Solve Problems
It’s not a big secret that, in order to be successful, you must constantly learn, meaning you need to maintain a high level of curiosity and ask as many questions as possible, despite what others may think. In fact, learning to ask questions can lead to business success. This is because it enables people to solve issues and come up with new perspectives and innovations, which help them solve common pain points and launch companies based on those innovations.
A great example of a hugely successful company that began with a question is Airbnb, which started by asking “Why should you be stuck without a bed if I’ve got an extra air mattress?” This was posed in response to a lack of hotel rooms in San Francisco during an annual design convention. In researching his book, Warren Berger noticed that Airbnb, along with other successful and innovative companies, had a culture of questioning. In these companies, an organic process usually developed early on that made it safe for employees to question the status quo and come up with creative alternatives to the problems they faced.
There is a simple process that begins to unlock the power of asking the right questions. It is a three-step series, with each step containing a different question:
Why? Asking “why” is essential to sparking creative thinking and looking at a problem with a new perspective, just like we saw in the Airbnb example. It is also a question you will hear every 4-year-old ask, often over and over again. The question is about understanding the problem, which is necessary before we can begin looking for solutions.
What If? For “why” to be effective, it is necessary to try to come up with solutions. The “what if” question begins to get the mind thinking about possible solutions in a creative way, without restrictions. This is the ideation phase of the process that seeks to see the problem from a new perspective.
How? The final step is to begin thinking logically about ways to turn your ideas and solutions into reality. Asking how you can bring your solutions to life is the start of setting up the process to solve the initial problem.
Using these three questions to think about and solve problems can be effective not only in business but also in personal situations. Remember: the sole act of posing the questions isn’t a comprehensive solution to the problem you are trying to solve. Instead, think of it as a way to help you structure your thoughts.
The Power to Build Stronger Relationships
The power of questions also applies to building relationships, which is useful to any entrepreneur, manager or freelancer. It all begins with asking open-ended questions and avoiding close-ended ones. The last thing you want when meeting someone new, especially in a business setting, is to have the conversation sputter by asking yes-or-no questions. Questions that begin with “why,” “how” and “what” often get a much more thoughtful response than questions that begin with “would,” “should” or “is.”
Even in everyday life, if you are asking about a movie, for example, a question such as “what did you think of the movie?” will propel the conversation forward, whereas a question such as “did you enjoy the movie?” will put the brakes on it. This is simply because the person answering the first open-ended question will have to put more thought into the answer, which will in turn lead to future questions.
If you think about some of the best conversations you’ve had, the experience probably left you feeling like the person you just spoke with genuinely cared and listened to what you had to say. This is precisely the goal when trying to start a business relationship. You must listen to and care about what the other person is telling you. Without active listening, you will not be able to ask the right open-ended questions.
For some people, this technique of active listening comes naturally; for others, it takes time and practice. The good news is you can practice on anyone you know. All you have to do is keep asking open-ended questions. You’ll be surprised how delighted someone will be once they’ve talked about their day for ten minutes and feel like you truly listened and were interested in what they had to say.
The power of questions stems from the fact that we are social beings. We seek to understand and be understood, to share information and to help others. Because of this, people who possess the skills to ask the right kind of questions have an easier time solving problems of any size and forging stronger relationships. For the rest of us, the key is to practice and build up our question-asking muscle.