First published in September 2018.
An American educator said that children entered school as a question mark and left school as a full stop. I think that we continue as full stop afterwards. I think that organizations hire people as Full Stops: the ones who have an answer, the ones who ‘have done it’, have the experience, know things as full stops. Full stop.
Who to blame? Is that not legitimate? Don’t we need experts? People with answers?
Of course we need these people, frankly, us. We all do. But what we don’t need is walking factories of answers to questions that nobody has put yet.
I distinguish three types of people who question things. There maybe more, but these are my three.
- The ones who have no possibilities, skills or intelligence to provide an answer but who throw questions as parapet in the hope of diverting attention and airtime so that they can hide their incompetence. They are conversation and meeting polluters. Avoid.
- The ones who are simply annoying and feel that asking questions is always smart, no matter how stupid the question is. It’s another form of pollution but more automatic. Avoid.
- The ones who are comfortable enough with their skills, competences and knowledge, then are brave enough to question conventional wisdom or preconceived ideas. Not out of insecurity, far from it. The ones who add tremendous value by avoiding groupthink or default positions, yet they are not questioning for the sake of it. These are the ones in whom the quality of the questions is a sign of their robust thinking, not their insecurity. Find them. Romance, seduce them.
Questioning is a full blown management discipline. It gets better with practice.
In fact, philosophically, we all are a question in search of answers. To remain as a good question, we should not be so fast as to find answers so soon. OK, you don’t need to get that philosophical. I understand.
May I push it a little bit more? The late Irish poet and philosopher John O’ Donohue said: ‘In creating us, God asked us a question’. He also said lots of very beautiful things. We were giving the gift of a question, of possibilities beyond full stops. We are walking questions.
Embrace this philosophy, or put it aside.
In any case, I seriously believe that if you are surrounded by people who have all the answers, you have a highly overqualified team. With lots and lots of full stops after irrelevant sentences.