Are Questions More Important than Answers?

Through my school years as a shy kid, I grew up never wanting to raise my hand in class, fearing I would look stupid, show weakness, and interrupt the teacher for no reason. Even through university, where discussion is encouraged, no one ever questioned why we did certain assignments and why it was important. Or when a professor accidentally presented material he/she presented in the previous class, it would take close to 15 minutes before someone would gain up the courage to question the professor. Which brings me to the question, “Why are we so afraid to ask questions?”

As everyone knows, toddlers and young children are like a broken record when it comes to asking “Why?”. They are masters of asking questions with a desire to understand the world around them – never afraid to ask, and never worrying about what others might think. By the time we are adults, we tend to stifle our curiosity and questions to appear more confident. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), most people feel that asking questions in an unwanted challenge to authority. Some professional like journalists and doctors are taught to ask questions as an essential part of their training, yet only few business professionals are taught to ask questions even though research suggests that organizations actually rely on curiosity to spur innovation, performance, and efficiencies.

Organizations only focused on a single goal without questioning other areas to improve, run the risk in falling behind. Take this example from HBR:

“Henry Ford focused on one goal: efficiencies to reduce production costs to create a car for the masses. By 1908 he had realized that vision with the introduction of the Model T. Demand grew so high that by 1921 the company was producing 56% of all passenger cars in the United States—a remarkable success made possible primarily by the firm’s efficiency-centered model of work. But in the late 1920s, as the U.S. economy rose to new heights, consumers started wanting greater variety in their cars. While Ford remained fixated on improving the Model T, competitors such as General Motors started producing an array of models and soon captured the main share of the market. Owing to its single-minded focus on efficiency, Ford stopped experimenting and innovating and fell behind.”

“Question everything,” Albert Einstein famously said. So why does school, and some organization’s cultural environments focus on answers?

At Ideba, we recognize the importance of inquiries. From Day 1, I was encouraged to ask questions about our processes and look for ways to improve. While it takes a long time to relearn feeling comfortable to ask questions, I appreciate the foundation that Ideba has given its employees to be curious, be collaborative and openly share our thoughts with all team members.

Here are three benefits to drawing on our innate curiosity within the workplace as outlined by HBR:

Fewer decision-making errors – People are less likely to have confirmation bias (looking for information that supports our beliefs rather than for evidence suggesting we are wrong). It leads us to generate alternative ideas and solutions.

Increases innovation – when we are curious, we tend to view tough situations more creatively.

“Studies have found that curiosity is associated with less defensive reactions to stress and less aggressive reactions to provocation. We also perform better when we are curious. In a study of 120 employees I found that natural curiosity was associated with better job performance, as evaluated by their direct bosses.”

Better team performance through open communication – it is important to promote an organizational culture that shares information openly and listens carefully

What are some ways you are encouraging curiosity in your organization? We would love to hear from you!

Jocelyn van der Geest, Senior Research Analyst