Why ASKING YOUR questions is so important?
In the months of global pandemic, national leaders’ speeches, biotech startup hackathons, artificial intelligence and Google on the tips of our fingers for a minute-to-minute live news updates and predictive simulations, I think that human curiosity and creativity are assets that are going to be more and more valuable. And I am not referring to being creative what to do at home for 1 month. I am referring to the fact that those assets are at the core of our problem-solving potential, both when it comes to the ways we source/seek/access information, but also when we boost our critical thinking to create the action plan upon it. As small and medium-sized business owners are facing a day-to-day rollercoaster of challenges, let me explore with you the importance of asking the right questions. With the hope that some of you might actually find stimulus to boost their creative minds in order to find the right questions to ask in times of crisis. The Leader Talks project has already placed YOUR questions at the core of our value creation process, as we are driven exactly by them. With this article I will try to convince you to do the same and to detach you from the rigid analyser mode 🙂 In this article I would like to answer the question “why asking your questions is so important?”. It is actually so important, that we – at Leader Talks, we basically do not ask any other questions. The importance of WHO is going to answer those questions, I am leaving for another article. And also – this is not a coronavirus article – so refreshingly new, a? 🙂
For us questions are powerful, they create connection, they drive destiny and they inspire action. But the issue is that our basic human nature is to SAY something, not to ASK something.
So, years back, as we started exploring different ways of transforming information into a readable, watchable content, we also wanted to explore how questions and the habit of asking questions has started to die in society. And most importantly – find a way to bring them back. And this is how the “Leader Talks” format and mission came to life. With the same amount of courage we could be “Leaders Ask”. With this article I would like to give you several reasons WHY ASKING YOUR QUESTIONS is so important and also to give you several ways by which you can introduce questions back into our lives, not only within Leader Talks.
Let me start with some data. In 2013 there was a study out in Britain. It found that the average 4 year old asks 390 questions per day. Did you read correctly – three hundred and ninety questions! Now is the time to admit two things 1) Kids are merciless, quite unsparing actually; and 2) those poor parents – save their souls! So 390 questions – that is a lot! Under quarantine they can easily be 39000 as we are all at home non stop, yet it is another topic. But if you do the simple math for 390 questions – that is one question every 2,5 minutes while that kid is awake. So the question here is what happens to us as we grow up and why we stop asking questions as part of becoming responsible grownups? (disclaimer: it’s not realistic for us to ask 390 questions a day as grownups, unless we have a go-to-isolation strategy)
Let’s go back when we were kids and we had the courage to ask anyone anything. What happened to us? My understanding is that as we grew older, fear and insecurity kicked in. We started worrying about what other people thought about us. Or our parents made sure that other people’s opinion of us is vital to our survival in the group and to our social acceptance. And that’s how our brain started wondering “What if I ask a question in class and looked stupid?” or “What if i say something on a company meeting and I look foolish?”. And the worst: “What if I ask a question about something that I should already know?”. When did fear and insecurity replace curiosity? When did our public image become more important than our personal growth? Those are the questions that worry us in Leader Talks.
Bruce Lee once said something great: “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question, than a fool can from a wise answer.” So we really think we should ask more questions, but besides fear – what else killed the questions in society?
I would say – social media. Look what is happening now – the coronavirus media report conditions us, it shapes us, it influences us, it actually shakes our core. What happens online is that we trade statement after statement after statement. We somehow try to win each other with information: “I know this, I know that, I estimate this, I predict that, I know this medication works, I did this test etc.” So you consume this information and you feel like it is hard to keep up. But most importantly – you can not ask questions. It is vulnerable on social media. Which is a shame, because that is a great way to connect with people and to know more, to understand more. But it may not be the right platform for all your questions. And this is where we come in. In Leader Talks we create the platform where all questions have place and all opinions matter.
Nonetheless, social media is already influencing how we interact in our day to day lives. I was having a conversation recently that sounded like a social media conversation. A friend called me, but after 2-3 minutes I understood that this was only a competition of statements. Back and forth. Monologues. There was no curiosity. And I thought – did I lose a chance for connection, was me having this conversations impacting my personal relationships. What would happen if i would ask a question? What if I asked more questions – probably it would have invited my friend, granted her the chance to talk more, share more, show her that I am actually interested in what she is saying, we could have built that relationship.
So… Leader Talks Rule Number 1:
1) Questions create connection – personally, I am honored to be able to ask YOUR questions to the leaders in our community
So coming back to Bulgaria from Babson College in Boston, I would also invest some of my time in the Harvard-based courses organized by the Center for Economic Strategy and Competitiveness in Bulgaria (check them here) . So we were all with our mind on our money and our money on our mind. (A Snoop Dogg reference to all y`all out there who are for the west coast). So the thing is that if you are enrolled in those courses you want to go to Harvard. That is the school, the go-to-MBA place that was the dream. So i dress up for a career orientation event, I go to the career counselor and ask the question “How do I get in Harvard? What I gotta do?” And he looked me with the RUF (resting unfriendly face), and with a zombie monologue tone he says “you can try, kid, but nobody gets into these schools. Good luck.” And his answer was not what I was expecting. But his answer was not what mattered. It was the desire behind my question. I wanted to know how can I go to great schools, how can I achieve more, do more, accomplish more. Let the corona pass first, of course. But the point is that the question that drives me today is how can I make personal and professional growth fun, real, engaging, life changing for people. And I started realizing that lots of successful people in life will tend to do the things themselves or they ask questions. For example, Elon Musk – the creator of Tesla. What question does he wants to answer? How can we use less fossil fuels in the world. You’ve got Oprah. She wants to know “How can i help people be their best selves in their lives” . You’ve got Steve Jobs who was wondering “How can i give a computer in everybody’s hand in the world”. So what are the questions that you really really want to answer? What are the questions that will fulfill you, drive you, consume you. What is the question that is going to unlock your destiny? So Leader Talks Rule Number 2:
2) Questions drive destiny
So in 2012 my Econometrics University teacher offered me to make a change in my professional path and shared with me that the Statistics team at UniCredit Bulbank are searching for a statistician. And I was 19 years old, I did not have much of working experience, so I said “Yes, why not, can I see the job description”. She sent me the link and I saw that they are looking for someone with 3+ years experience in this type of work, “fluent” in MathLab, SPSS and other statistical software programs and preferably, to have some prior work-in-a-big-institution experience. So I was NONE of that and I asked myself “OK, is it worth the try – to go on an interview, just to have me declined because the lack of all this experience?”. And my answer was “Yes”. Because even in the decline, even in the failure you can still learn something. In comparison – not taking any kind of action would not teach you anything. So I applied. I received the call from the Manager of the team and I was invited to talk with her (and only her as I initially understood). I arrived in front of the Bank, chilling, like someone going to a theatre – not actually planning to stay or work there, but just to enjoy the show for a couple of hours 🙂 So we go up to the 4th floor, I open the door only to realize that 4 more people are waiting for me to do the interview! A bit shocked, as if I came in to watch “The Silence of the Lambs” and ended up participating in “Transformers”. So they started building up the interview, asking me some very strange questions, for example “Can you estimate what is the annual “consumption” of paperclips within the Bank in Bulgaria?” When the interview finished and I left the building, I honestly felt like a huge failure. Although I had zero expectations and knew how things would roll out, I still felt it – and the feeling was not a pleasant one. But hey – life goes on. So life did go on, only to realise a few weeks later that they the Bank is offering me a full-time position, special options for me to continue my University studies and I already had a Nickname – they now called me “Wonder Kid”. Why Wonder Kid? Well, I happen to have given them the exact number of paperclips they used this exact year 🙂 That just blew my mind. So the conclusion is to always try to ask the right questions and if they guide you to some new and unexpected way – try it, because you would be surprised by the end result. And I am proud to share that I did. It is totally empowering. My work at the bank gave me some of the most precious experience. And I love to meet people (when there is no quarantine), and I love to ask them about their lives, what they do and by telling me what they are doing, now this somehow becomes possible for me too. Leader Talks Rule Number 3:
3) Questions open the doors to new possibilities.
It is not about only asking questions, its about getting other people to ask us questions. Because that one can be hard.
So while I was still a student, I was working in a bank. And my team and I – we used to travel around the regions and I was presenting the research results from the past year. I would prep my little heart, ignore the “Wonder kid” jokes, spoke incessantly and at the end i would say “Any questions?” And nobody had anything to ask. And i said to myself “ok, what am I doing?” And i thought about two things – 1) “any questions” is a statement. And 2) its common autopilot language cliche. Anyone in the corporate world would say “any questions”. It is the same as “how are you doing”, your ear turns down, because everybody’s saying that. So we shut down. So I needed to change it from “any questions” to “what questions do you have?” “What can i explore further?” And that sharpens their ears. It sounds different. It has caught their attention. And secondly, it was granting them an invitation by asking a question. So Leader Talks Rule Number 4:
4) Questions grant invitations.
Questions can also help you in your personal lives, for example i have a super macho boyfried, and when I come back from work, I could be sad, I could be happy, I could be frustrated by work drama – or we stay all day together because of the coronavirus, by the challenges she needs to deal with. So i want to be a superman; i want to solve all those problems to her. Im like “come to me baby, and here is what you should do”. I channel my inner vanilla ice “if you have problems, im gonna solve all of them”. The problem is she doesnt want to have the answer, she doesnt like vanilla ice. She is more of a spice girls type “tell me what you want that you really really want”. Im trying to say that i have to get from her to tell me what she wants. So instead of solving her problem with a statement, i would ask a question “what would you prefer me to do right now – would you prefer me to listen to you or for you to hear my perspective?” And that question changed the game for us.
So Leader Talks Rule Number 5:
5) Questions Build bridges.
Good. You reached so far. NOW NEXT LEVEL. It is about you as individuals and how you can use questions for yourself. If you are like me, your brain never stops working, its like having a hamster in a wheel.”omg, i gotta do this, read that, keep up with this etc” My brain just keeps on turning, statement after statement. And positive statements are better than negative statements, but the best thing our brains can do is to be curious and ask questions. So for example if i’m preping for a speech “im great, im gonna do it, stay positive “ or on the other hand i can ask questions “what can I do to prep, how can I reduce my nerves, who can I speak to that can help people understand me better?” So asking questions provoke thought and it is far more effective, which is proven by social science. Check out this research – they separated once people in two groups to solve anagrams – scrambled letters that form words. Before that the first groups wrote statements in order to solve anagrams “im smart, I can solve them”. The other group had to write questions in advance – “what is the best way to solve this anagrams” “how can I get better in solving this anagrams”. So the second group that had to write down the questions, solved 50% more anagrams. 50% ! Why is that the case? Because the brain hates an unanswered question. If i asked you – what is the color of your coach at home, it hijackes your brain and you start thinking about that. So questions put us in a proactive state and we tend to do better. The thing is we also have to think about the types of questions that we have. For example “why me, what is wrong with me, why is not happening to me” – those are not the best ones you can use to keep moving forward. In a moment of crisis, I beg you – do not become a victim of your mind!
Albert Einstein once said “If I had an hour to solve a problem, and my life depended on it, I would spend the first 55minutes to find the right question to ask to solve this problem, because I can answer this question after in less than 5minutes” so we need to ask questions but we also need to ask the right questions.
So Leader Talks Rule Number 6:
6) Questions inspire us to action.
So we ask more questions, we ask the right questions and also important is how we ask the questions. And the kids hold the key here. So why is this mom letting the kid ask so much questions and has the patience to answer them. Well.. first its because the kid is probably super adorable and cute. And second – because the kid is genuinely curious. So normally if the kids asks “mommy, from where is the rainbow coming from?” it is because probably the kid really wants to know. And we have more patience for that, normally. So we need to be encouraged to ask questions with a spirit of curiosity rather than with a spirit of animosity. So if im in an argument with someone and start yelling “so what should i do, ha? What should i do so that you can change your mind, ha?” This attitude would most probably not work and take me anyway. In comparison if i talk in a balanced and normal way with respect “what can i say so that you can change your mind about that candidate?” So this is sincere, this is genuine, it is you. And again “why me, whats wrong with me?” Vs “what can i learn from this situation”.
And finally, Rule Number 7:
7) The quality of our lives is directly related to the quality of our thinking. The quality of our thinking, in turn, is determined by the quality of our questions, for questions are the engine, the driving force behind thinking. If you want to know more – read this.
So for closing, I want to share with you something I learned from a general in the military who told me:
“when times are good, be tough, demanding and strong on your people, when times are hard, be kind, and patient and empathetic”
so think about that the next time you encounter news or you are bit too stressed around all this corona pandemic. We do not want it to be the exact opposite in reality, right? When we need questions the most, whether we are stressed, worried or in an argument what should be done, what actually happens – we go to statements, social media. So wouldn’t it be amazing if we could rewire our brains so that our first instict is to ask a question with a childlike spirit of curiosity. If you see that a friend of yours is out in the bars and having fun, if he is not following the quarantine rules, start with a question, do not judge. Because we want to challenge each and every one of you to unleash this child within you and ask more questions. Because questions are powerful.
Leader Talks is all about asking YOUR questions. And since we can not do that in our monthly events, we are starting a podcast series very soon. You will continue to be able to ask YOUR questions to the leaders nowadays! Stay tuned!
*No questions have been asked within less than 1 meter distance in this article!
** Stay safe, stay home!