BEFORE YOU RESEARCH ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
As kids, we questioned a lot. We sought answers to a legion of questions and we did that time and again until our appetite for knowledge and learning didn’t suffice. Questioning the obvious we cleared the air of ambiguity which shrouded us. Time passed and we grew up and our inquisitiveness gave way to submissiveness. We accepted more than we questioned. Did we lose something? Are we loosing something?
On a sunny afternoon in cafeteria of Cornell University, Richard Feynman saw a spinning plates and from there came his idea for a quantum electrodynamics study that later won him a Nobel Prize. There were many people in that cafeteria that saw the plate wobbling, but why was Richard the only one to win a Nobel?
Was it not because he questioned himself? Newton demystified the power of gravity only after he questioned the falling apple. Henry Ford was able to lead the automobile industry only because he was able to question his production methodology.
What is this universe, if not a series of unanswered and answered questions?
In their research involving hundreds of innovators and thousands of entrepreneurs, managers and executives from around the world, Gregersen, Christensen and Dyer boiled the formula of innovation down to five key skills:
- Associational thinking
Steve Jobs didn’t wake up one fine day and decided to launch Ipod. He wanted 1000 songs in his pocket and thereafter he questioned himself, how? This is how we got to witness and experience what we today call “IPOD”.
Breakthroughs are often born with someone asking “What if??”
Similarly, a number of today’s successful tech startups came into being as an attempt to answer questions like, what if we could somehow crowd source everything a city has to offer? (Foursquare) or, what if we could get any question immediately answered by the world’s smartest people? (Quora).
This brings up an interesting you-know-what: If we can see that questions are linked to innovation and problem-solving, why are so many of us reluctant to ask them? A recent University of Michigan study found that people in business are generally loath to raise questions? Primarily because they fear that anyone who asks fundamental questions will be perceived as incompetent or uninformed. And if anything, this problem seems to worsen over time as people gain more experience and expertise in their fields. After all, experts know they’re supposed to supply answers, not more questions.
Alas, this is not just story of business world. The bug has bitten our educational system as well. ‘In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question,’ Which may explain why kids–who start off asking endless “why” and ‘what if’ questions–gradually ask fewer and fewer of them as they progress through grade school. And, the questions they do ask tend to become “smaller and more proscribed”.
In this era of search engines we’ve come to expect quick answers to whatever questions comes to our heads. But the best innovators know that when it comes to answering profound, game-changing questions, a much more exhaustive kind of “search” is required. The question must be lived with; over time it may be expanded, then honed and refined. It is good to launch the questioner on a journey of inquiry that may involve in-depth observation, combinatory and lateral thinking, experimentation, and prototyping (after all a prototype, to quote IDEO’s Diego Rodriguez, is itself? A question, embodied?).
So yes, pause for a moment and question the world around you. There are multitudes of mysteries waiting to be unravelled.