On the value of asking questions

I believe that being willing to ask questions (and risk looking stupid) is a predictor of future success.  Being able to ask good questions shows curiosity, builds relationships (people love being asked for advice), and accelerates learning.  Being able to ask good questions in a tough audience shows audacity or confidence, which is a sign of leadership potential as well.

On the flip side, gauge your audience well and don’t ask stupid questions that will frustrate the other party, waste their time, or cause them to question your intelligence.

An example from a meeting I sat in on today: one of the leaders of our organization came to do a Q&A and described a scenario he had been dealing with recently.  Out of a room of 20+ people, 4 people asked questions (and keep in mind the Q&A was slated to last 30 minutes).  What about the others?  Did they lack curiosity?  Did they lack interest in taking advantage of this opportunity to engage with and impress a leader in their organization?  Were they afraid to look foolish?

From the leader’s perspective, I’m sure he was grateful for everyone who took the time to ask questions and give him an opportunity to speak, give his advice, fill up any awkward silences.

Another example: in this same meeting, there were several new hires (one of which asked a question–impressive!).  I’m sure that they were confused about the nuances of the situation the leader was describing, but none of them asked for any clarification during this Q&A.  One of them, however, did find another person to ask follow up questions to after the Q&A.  Now this girl knows more about the company, the business, and the way things work.

Think about these interactions, accruing over the course of a lifetime of work.  Small incremental nuggets of learning build into a massive snowball of domain expertise and positive reputation and good habits.  These 2 new hires who asked questions, those 4 brave/curious souls who asked questions, if I had to bet money on future success at work, I’d weight the odds higher on them.

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