We need to stop giving answers and start asking questions

- July 29, 2014 3 MIN READ

For much of our early childhood, by nature, we are highly inquisitive beings. Asking questions about anything and everything is the norm. We seek and desire to learn and are generally interested in the world that surrounds us.

We then arrive at school.

And for the most part, education generally gears us towards providing answers to questions framed for expected knowledge, rather than equipping us to identify problems or opportunities and ask challenging questions that lead us on the path to meaningful answers and solutions.

This is a feature of both school and higher education.

Similarly, when we enter the workforce, most of our managers expect answers and solutions from us, not challenging questions that raise eyebrows.

What I’m getting at is that over time, we are gradually moulded into answer givers. Our capability to pass a test, successfully land a job interview or get promoted is often associated with our capability to give answers. And often, these answers are based on expected prior knowledge.

And, our success is often judged on our answers.

Not only is this not our natural state, this practice is highly counter-intuitive in the context of doing anything remotely new or highly uncertain – i.e. a startup or corporation trying to innovate.

When trying to do something new, you always start by asking questions. These questions form hypotheses and the hypotheses direct your search for answers, for customers, for a business model.

For those who believe entrepreneurship is part of their nature, this exploratory environment that revolves around the search for high-value problems and opportunities, and the further search for viable answers and solutions might come easy. But for those who are actively trying to nurture their entrepreneurial capability, giving answers, rather than asking questions may be what is now most comfortable to you.

If you are in the second category, and you want to embark on an entrepreneurial journey, you need to stop giving answers and start asking questions.

And, the questions you ask should be hard to answer.

Whether they are the catalyst for your first idea, or directed towards your Head of Engineering regarding the architecture and extensibility of your cloud platform once you’re fully operational, the answers to your questions shouldn’t come easy.

If they do, they aren’t worth asking in the first place.

In the context of a startup, when building a business model from the ground up, the answers to your questions should require exploration, testing and ultimately validation.

In many ways, this is a big part of what now forms the Lean Startup or evidence-based entrepreneurship movement we’re all experiencing.

We don’t just assume we know the answers based on experiences, we explore, test and validate.

I look at this as a pretty big idea as it means to me that our natural inquisitive nature as children is highly optimised towards entrepreneurship.

Whether we all ‘have it’ or not naturally is a much bigger question that I cannot simply answer through opinion, or in this post.

But, this does raise the question of how we could possibly nurture ‘entrepreneurial capability’ in people from a very young age.

Do we set them on a progressive path towards continually finding and solving problems, where the problems they try to find and solve become more meaningful as their capabilities to search and validate mature?

This of course cannot completely eradicate the necessity of basic literacy and arithmetic. Nor am I implying that our education systems are completely broken.

But I am saying that by changing the way we approach, and how we value asking questions versus giving answers, we may be able to nurture an environment where more ‘value creators’ (entrepreneurs) can thrive.