Why we all need to ask more questions

curiosity in leadership DXC Blogs

Curiosity: The natural urge to continually question the world around us, to understand how things work and where they come from.

The human mind is fundamentally inquisitive, and we see this in children from a young age. Children have a powerful drive to understand the world, as I’m reminded every time I see my niece and she demands answers to “what?”, “how?”, “but WHY?” questions.

But as we get older, many of us stop asking questions with the same passion.

This article describes a study finding that kids’ conversations were 70% to 80% questions, while their parents only asked questions 15-25% of the time. Why is that?

It could be due to the stigmas associated with asking question, such as a fear of slowing things down or not looking intelligent. But in today’s world – and in the IT industry in particular — it’s important that we regain our ability to freely ask questions.

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

Einstein was an advocate for questioning the world and thinking critically about the answers he was given. In fact, the very foundation of the scientific method is a question. It’s a constant cycle of intellectual exploration.

I will never forget the parting words of my Year 12 physics teacher. He congratulated us for getting through the year, and then he promised to let us in on a little secret — which was that almost everything we had learned over the last two years was a lie. Gravity doesn’t exist in the way we think it does; atoms are not the smallest parts of matter; spacetime is a thing, and so on. He added that even the concepts he taught us and believed to be true would probably be disproved as new discoveries were made in the future.

This made me think about how the scientific world is in a constant state of disruption. Every week, we hear about a new particle discovery, planets changing classifications (RIP Pluto) and so on. On many occasions, such as the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe or the Higgs Boson particle, a new discovery has changed the world forever

In the blink of an eye, everything you believe about a subject could change. Nothing is absolute and the world is constantly evolving – and we need to do the same.

I was reminded of this recently when talking to a mentor of mine at DXC, Sarah James. In a workshop that involved brainstorming the skills and capabilities required of IT professionals of the future, Sarah mentioned the importance of questioning everything, a sign of a continuous learner and creative thinker.

Why is this ability just as important to the IT industry as it is to the science community?

Easy. Because our industry is in a constant state of disruption. Just as we see weekly updates on new particle discoveries, we see daily tweets about the newest technologies. Digital disruption is influencing our everyday life, and has been for decades.

Fibre optics, cell phones, the Internet – all of it changed the way the world operates today. And tomorrow, a new device could be unveiled that completely disrupts our beliefs about technology. Need proof? Gartner proposes that, by the year 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse!

“It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers” Pierre-Marc-Gaston, duc de Lévis

So how do we begin the process of learning to ask questions again?

The great philosopher Socrates was known to teach through questioning. Tibetan Buddhism is also quite famous for philosophical debates aimed at defeating misconceptions and seeking understanding of the nature of reality.

Plenty of online resources teach the art of asking questions. One I like outlines the four different types of questions you can ask: clarifying, adjoining, funnelling and elevating. It discusses the dangers of making assumptions and the need to ask clarifying questions, and how to use elevating methods to take a step back (sometimes literally if working on a whiteboard) and look at the bigger picture.

A similar path of study focuses on how questions can make managers more effective. Strong leaders need to be able to question themselves, ask for feedback and question projects and plans, in a respectful way that advances work and builds relationships.

We should also be able to question our organisations, and ask why things are done the way they are. How can we do things differently and more effectively? How we can improve practices, processes and structures? Check out this article for more information.

And as we grow in our own ability to question the world around us, we need to encourage the curiosity of others. It has been suggested that if a child (or adult) is placed in an environment that does not encourage active questioning, they will not be able to turn that skill into a habit. We need to take the time to help others and create an environment that encourages critical thinking and curiosity.

So what burning questions are on your mind? What subjects are you deeply curious about? Take a leap and reach out to someone for answers. Because, as the Chinese proverb says, “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.”


Courtney Carr is an Associate Consultant in the DXC Young Professionals program. She is Western Australia born and raised, with a passion for environmental conservation and social justice. She specialises in human resources, management, Japanese language and culture, strategic planning and innovation. She loves to travel and is driven by a love of learning and desire to understand the world around her. Courtney always welcomes a challenge, and IT is up next. She is involved in Authentic Leadership, Women in Leadership, Young Professionals and Corporate Responsibility resource groups in DXC.

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Comments

  1. Khaled Soubani says:

    Thank you for a very positive article. What occurred to me while reading is where do people go to find answers is also as important as their curiosity. Personally, I have my list of trusted sources of information on the internet that I refer to on a daily basis (they also reflect my biases). Whether to answer my own questions or those of others. Also, the management of one’s curiosity is important because the complicated nature of modern society brings many topics to the front. So, one has to practice a bit of budgeting of their time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Courtney Carr says:

      Thank you for the comment Khaled. Very interesting point that you have raised. I think it’s definitely important to continue the trend of asking questions even when receiving your answers. So that extends to questioning your source of information and how reliable it is, and as you mentioned also be curious about the potential bias that is involved. I think it’s also important to question your own bias, and try to put yourself in situations that challenge your usual thought process to avoid this and see different perspectives. But indeed it is time consuming, and sometimes we do need to prioritise the more pressing curiosities 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim Armstrong says:

    Great read. I think this defines the Business Analyst role.

    Liked by 1 person

    • geosupergirl says:

      Think it also takes one step further and defines a Scientist, a Strategic Consultant, a Data Scientist and an Inventory. They ask the unthinkable….

      Like

  3. My burning question upon reading this post is why a very young (a member of graduate program as noted) consultant could write this thoughtful and constructive article?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michele Howard says:

    great blog Courtney – never stop questioning 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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