One thing I kept finding was that many of the world’s leading innovators and creative minds were exceptionally good at asking questions. There is a link between questioning and innovation. Google is described as a company that “runs on questions.” Questioning isn’t taught in most schools, nor is it rewarded (only memorized answers are). It is found that children after the age of 5 stop asking many questions (when school starts). A study in England was done on four year olds, they asked on the average of 390 questions a day. Questioning can be hazardous to one’s career, asking a question in a conference room and ask “WHY?” is to risk being seen as uninformed, or possibly insubordinate, or maybe both. Questions challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems. To encourage questioning is to cede power. With the constant change we face today, we may be forced to be more in a questioning mode, attempting to adapt, looking to re-create. We must question outdated approaches and status quo practices, to inject much-needed fresh thinking. Basic, fundamental questions can make people uncomfortable. Frank Lloyd Wright put it well; “an expert is someone who has stopped thinking because he ‘knows.’” If you don’t ask, you are relying on “expert” knowledge that is certainly limited, may be outdated, and could be altogether wrong. “Questions are flashlights that shine a light on where you need to go,” says Dan Rothstein. Questions not only open up thinking, they also can direct and focus it. Business leaders sometimes find themselves thrust back into questioning mode during dire times, when those rules and methods they’ve come to rely on no longer work. The age of adaptation is upon us. The comfortable expert must go back to being a restless learner. We get breakthroughs, when someone looks at the way things have always been done and asks WHY? WHAT IF possibilities often result from connecting existing ideas in unusual and interesting ways. Einstein was a believer in combinatorial thinking; today it is the primary source of creativity. Each “answer” the questioner arrives at, brings a fresh wave of questions.
Fear is the enemy of curiosity. The cause of not asking questions; If all you do as you’re growing up is watch stuff on a screen, or go to school where they give you answers, then you don’t develop the instinct for asking questions, said Harvard professor Christensen. Burton, a neurologist, says we have a strong feeling of knowing. He calls that a “certainty epidemic.” Being vulnerable, having that trust, with not knowing is the first part of being able to question. Suziki wrote, “The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert. Such a mind is open to all possibilities.” The Zen mind-set is to question everything. Zennovation describes the merging of Zen principles and innovation. Everyone can adopt the Zen beginner’s mind.
Questioning in business is considered disruptive innovation. Sometimes it is necessary to look at the business with a “beginners mind” and set aside all history. Old history and traditions can sometimes get in the way of progress. Questions can remove these constraints. Collaborative thinking in problem solving is necessary. Question-storming has been found to be more effective than conventional brainstorming. HOW MIGHT WE? Is the question just right to spark creative thinking. The word MIGHT, opens up more possibilities without being judgmental. Give me the facts questioning can help run a business, but not necessary in leading it. Leaders prefer answers because that allows us to take action, while questions mean that we need to keep thinking. A question invites participation and collaboration. Bertrand Russell said, “It is healthy now and then to hang a question mark on the things you take for granted.”
Ron Winnegrad has been a Perfumer and teacher for 46 years. As a perfumer, Ron has been able to express the world he sees through a rainbow of olfactive and emotive visions. As a teacher, Ron has helped others to see fragrance through his own multi sensorial lens.