Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Questioning Our Questions

--by Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown, David Isaacs (May 07, 2007)

"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." -- Albert Einstein

When was the last time you sat through a meeting and said to yourself, "This is a complete waste of time!"? Was it yesterday, or even just a few hours ago? Why did that gathering feel so tedious? Perhaps it's because the leaders posed the wrong questions at the start of the session. Or, worse yet, maybe they didn't ask any engaging questions, and as a result, the meeting consisted of boring reports-outs or other forms of oneway communication that failed to engage people's interest or curiosity.

The usefulness of the knowledge we acquire and the effectiveness of the actions we take depend on the quality of the questions we ask. Questions open the door to dialogue and discovery. They are an invitation to creativity and breakthrough thinking. Questions can lead to movement and action on key issues; by generating creative insights, they can ignite change.

Consider the possibility that everything we know today about our world emerged because people were curious. They formulated a question or series of questions about something that sparked their interest or deeply concerned them, which lead them to learn something new. Many Nobel laureates describe the "Eureka!" moment of their discovery as when the "right" question finally revealed itself—even if it took them considerable time to come up with the final answers. [...]

If asking good questions is so critical, why don't most of us spend more of our time and energy on discovering and framing them? One reason may be that much of Western culture, and North American society in particular, focuses on having the "right answer" rather than discovering the "right question." Our educational system focuses more on memorization and rote answers than on the art of seeking new possibilities. We are rarely asked to discover compelling questions, nor are we taught why we should ask such questions in the first place. [...]

[Actually], it is quite easy to learn the basics of crafting powerful questions. However, once you understand the importance of inquiry, it's hard to turn back. As your questions become broader and deeper than before, so does your experience of life. There is no telling where a powerful question might lead you.

--Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown, David Isaacs, From this article

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Previous Reflections:

On May 7, 2007 TOW Team wrote:
Some possible points of reflection:

* What question can you ask every day that will connect you to yourself?
* Have there been any times when the right question has triggered the right direction?
* How do you craft powerful questions?

On May 7, 2007 Conrad wrote:
I wrote the following as a guest column three days ago for the BGSU student newspaper. It has not yet been printed. It may be too long, but it does apply . Viral you have my gratitude.Conrad
Specialization Can Make You a Slave

There is an old and infrequently considered history of education related by Buckminster Fuller which demonstrates how the elite of the military-industrial-governmental complex keep many of us in the dark. When we are in the dark we can be more easily manipulated without being aware of it.

Fuller relates how the Great Pirates would establish a land-based home and make someone the Governor. The great pirate would ask that Governor to tell him when a smart young man is noticed. The great pirate would take the young man and ask him to study a specialty such as accounting, finance, navigation, shipbuilding, or some other important skill of the day. The Pirates would tell the young man to only study that specialty because the great pirate would be the only one who will be a comprehensive thinker who dealt with all fields of thought. These specialists were paid reasonably well but they always took orders from the Great Pirate. They were not independent comprehensive thinkers as the Great Pirate was.

Specialization that began with the Great Pirates continues in schools and universities and often does not follow what the great philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, said about learning. Whitehead said there first should be an adventure stage where the student is turned on and becomes inquisitive about finding out more about a field. The second stage would be a precision stage where the student learns much. The third stage and one that is often dismissed by teachers and professors is the generalization stage where one attempts to make connections ( arrive at open big open ideas) not only within a field of knowledge but also between fields of knowledge.

Schooling and university training concentrates mainly on the second stage, the specialization stage and as a result, students and former students -- most of us, are often in the dark and rely excessively on other people's thinking rather than deciding for ourselves. Thomas Jefferson held that a major purpose of schooling was to provide conditions whereby each student would decide for oneself what will secure or endanger one’s freedom.

Today we are not frequently concerned with openness amd our freedom. Thhe kind of government that conservative government's wish to place in other areas (often the Mid-East) seems now to be overly involved with secrecy and manipulation. An oligarchy now seems to decide much of what our country is doing in Iraq.

One way of judging the power of our schools and universities is noting who we choose to be our leaders. What grade would you now give our schools and universities for the leadership we now have at the federal level? If the grade were quite low, can you notice that Whitehead’s adventure and generalization stages have been neglected so that many of us remain in the dark and are easily manipulated by the elite. Beyond these general conceptualizations is more openness to the unknown and even openness to the unknowable.

On May 8, 2007 JZ wrote:
Richard Bach used to say, "The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about these once in a while and watch your answers change." I tend to agree.

On May 8, 2007 Xiaoshan wrote:
This is a very special stage of my life: I watch my days pass, and hardly any question arises...except this one "where did all my questions go?" I am grateful, Viral.

I like Conrad's article very much. Many thanks to Conrad.

On May 8, 2007 Conrad wrote:
I'm glad Xiaoshan liked my article. Noticing the present shows how ephemeral everything is. Questions at that level of development may only yield conceptions which are often delusional in that conceptions are often fixed and primarily deal with the nonexistent past or future.

On May 8, 2007 Brinda wrote:
I totally agree---one of the things I admired most about my post-doc advisor
(in the life sciences) was his ability to ask the right questions. My question: how does one learn "how" to come up with the right questions??! I also agree that this sort of thing is not emphasized enough in school!
Thank you.

On May 9, 2007 Anurag wrote:
The article reverbrates fully with my mind. Even my training luckily re-enforces it. A big challenge is to ask the right question when one is emotionally "inside" the situation. In those moments, tendency is to let the answers dictate the questions. The search for stillness continues....

On Jan 23, 2008 Joyce wrote:
Wow iam silent

Or shall i ask a question? Why does the question haunt me about not questioning a lot? Is it posible to live that aware of oneself?

I always said i want to live, not be lived.

tnx conrad for ur article. It helped me a step further in my quest

On Jan 23, 2008 cindy wrote:
The single right question can change minds of the close-minded, surprisingly! Sometimes change is good- for each and every group member. Thanks

On Jan 24, 2008 ganobadate wrote:
In gyan yog (the path of knowledge)we have to search (khojana)and a question is the torch that leads us to the answer or resolution. It is not only important to have the right kind of torch but also to direct it to the darkest spot.
In bhakti yog (the path of love)we have to lose our ego, the small i (kho jana). On this path by remaining still and silent we find the answer as it unfolds itself.

On Mar 26, 2008 Tebogo wrote:
what a touching concept indeed.thanx Conrad 4 opening our minds to the "hidden" realities that occur in our surroundings everyday.

On Oct 26, 2012 Cate wrote:
 I receive grace when someone says "that is a good question," or "hmm, never thought about it that way." Thanks for the reminder on the value of good questions.