I believe there are bad questions. I believe many, if not most, questions are bad. I don’t think this because they are completely wrong questions, but because they are usually half-baked. A half-baked question is a bad question, because it’s the wrong question, soliciting an answer you don’t want.
A half-baked question is asking if your host has water rather than asking for a cup of it. Or, asking for an update on a project when you just want to know if it’s complete. With the water question, you end up asking two questions instead of one, wasting time. With the project question, you get a longwinded answer when you just wanted a simple yes or no. Both are bad questions.
Einstein famously said:
If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.
I love this approach to asking a question. Einstein recognized that if we ask a fully-baked, carefully thought out question, the response to that question is often simple, quick, and powerful.
In an interesting Forbes article about asking questions, their research showed the following.
The affect of asking the right question is statistically profound. In our research we saw that asking the right question increased the odds of someone’s work having a positive affect on others by 4.1 times. It made the outcome 3.1 times more likely to be deemed important, 2.8 times more likely to create passion in the doer, and perhaps most significant to company leaders, 2.7 times more likely to make a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.
We often think that problem-solving lies in a brilliant solution. I don’t think that’s true. The best problem-solving lies in asking the best question. A brilliant question will render a brilliant solution. A bad question will render a bad one.
Note: “How can art change the world?” is not an example of a stupid question, but a great one!