I work at a high school. Over and over again the teachers ask, “Do you have any questions?” Students are absolutely silent. Then they begin their work and becomes painfully obvious that they needed to ask questions. I learned to do this myself. I asked questions about everything. When I first worked in a computer lab, I would pester the computer techs with as many questions as I could think of. I was a bit like a toddler asking why the grass was green and the sky was blue. I found out later they fought not to get sent to the school I worked at to avoid my questions. How else was I going to find out? Then one of the guys realized the more he answered my questions the fewer times I called. He started answering all my questions. I read the book read-me-first but there was so much more information I needed. I totally focused on getting better at fixing computers. I wanted/needed to ask someone. I went back to college when my kids were in high school. Again I asked questions. I worked at the university in the Photography computer labs. Photography fascinated me when the professors sent me to take a class so they could talk to me. I fell in love with photography. I spent hours exploring this new thing. I asked questions about everything. Why did this work? Why didn’t this work? Why do it that way? Is there another way to do things? I decided to change my major to photography. That meant I would have to be an art major and take a drawing class. I was stick figure challenged. I could make a happy face look creepy. The teacher would tell us what we needed to do for the class, then she would ask, “Are there any questions?” Up went my hand while everyone got busy drawing. She would turn the page on my drawing pad and explain the assignment again with pictures. At first, I felt sheepish that I was the only one that didn’t know. After several assignments, I looked up from my pad after asking my questions to find 3 other students watching the second demonstration along with me. Yes, the class voted me most improved. I improved because I asked questions and tried out the answers. I did the same thing in counseling. I came to counseling looking for answers and asking questions. Lots of questions, why do I have nightmares? Why don’t I remember them? Why do I understand what a blood dream is without anyone having to explain it to me? Why do I freeze sometimes and other times I flip out into a screaming rage? Why do I feel so different from everyone else? Questions opened the door to answers, some answers were Earth shattering and life changing.
For those of you who will be researchers and innovators, remember this observation of Jonas Salk, who discovered and developed the vaccine for polio: “What people think of as the moment of discovery,” he observed, “is really the discovery of the question.” It takes time and work to discover the question. Einstein famously said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.
Asking good questions will be just as rewarding in your personal life. Good friends, as you know, ask great questions, as do good parents. They pose questions that, just in the asking, show how much they know and care about you. They ask questions that make you pause, that make you think, that provoke honesty, and that invite a deeper connection. They ask questions that don’t so much demand an answer as prove irresistible. My simple point is that posing irresistible questions is an art worth cultivating. ~Ryan