How many times have you heard the phrase: “that’s a good question.” in the past week?
Pick any of those times and let me ask you this: what made it a good one?
Many times we’ll find that as a polite answer or it’s even displayed as a knee-jerk reaction to someone’s inquiry but, it doesn’t guarantee that the inquiry will help the questioner and the questioned to expand their minds.
Moreover, asking a question requires courage, probably even, more courage than being the one addressing it.
Unfortunately, when given the opportunity, the majority of the people (at least that I know) are afraid of posing “dumb questions” and so they keep silent. It seems they would rather avoid embarrassment than becoming smarter.
Maybe we all get self-conscious and we forget that:
When information is overabundant, good questions become the new scarce resource.
So, the main question in fact becomes: what makes a good question a good question?
What is a (GOOD) Question?
A “Question” is defined as a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information 1.
Now, let’s consider this. It’s not a coincidence that the word “Question”2 and “Quest” have a common etymological root.
When we embark on a Quest, we’re on a search to find something, we’re hunting for a treasure.
Likewise, in a Question, the purpose is to participate in an adventure, where the answer is the price that we’re hunting for.
In that sense, a good question is a thought-provoking one, especially if is it posed in a conversation between two people.
Those questions elicit reflection on both ends: the questioner, and the person addressing the question. In that case, it is a gift for both and thus, it is a quest worth pursuing as collaborators.
On the same line, a good question can also be presented to oneself. In fact, properly crafted self-inquiries are the fuel of the curiosity that drives the careers of scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, and any kind of explorer.
So, how to make good questions?
How to Make GOOD Questions
Make the silly questions first
As a matter of fact, there are no “Silly Questions”.
The ones that we think are that kind, the ones that we think will put us in ridicule, are the first ones that we need to actually pose.
Most of the time those “silly” questions are the ones that will help you save a lot of time, especially when you’re working with a group of people, and if you’re lucky, they will even produce “Eureka” moments.
Like Peter Drucker suggests in “Managing Yourself“, when you need to interact with other people to achieve a common goal, for example in a work project, start by giving a quick summary of your skills, your strengths, weaknesses, and how you work best. That creates a solid and honest communication base that will allow you to ask silly questions.
Eventually, when you have made enough “silly questions”, you’ll run out of them and you’ll start finding diamond answers with more refined inquiries.
Interacting with Technology
We all use Google and other Web Search Browser to query information. But asking: “OK Google: tell me everything you know.” will get you nowhere (I know because I tried… twice!).
Web Search Engines like Bing, Google, and others have a series of commands to help us constraint our queries and thus, be more effective when finding information.
You can find lists of Advanced Operators for every Search Engines as well, but for the sake of an example, I’ll use the following Google commands:
- OR: Google search defaults to logical AND between terms if you don’t specify anything, so you can specify “OR” for a logical OR (ALL-CAPS).
- “ “: Finds instances of the exact text within the quotation marks everywhere it appears in the search engine’s index.
- – : Use the minus (-) symbol in front of any term to exclude that term from the results.
- inurl: Finds pages that include a specific keyword in their indexed URLs.
- intitle: Finds pages that include a specific word as part of the indexed title tag.
- filetype: Finds results of a single type only (such as pdf).
So you can query something like this:
And, you’re not limited to use only text to search for information. Besides those operators, you can also use images as search criteria in services like Google’s Reverse Image Search, or use audio as search criteria in services like Shazam, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa or any other virtual assistant.
Allow your curiosity to interact with technology in new way. Who knows, maybe your next best question is a “Hey Siri” or “OK Google” away.
Keep a Questions Journal
In essence: write down your questions.
When we externalize our curiosity through a question, we subconsciously nudge ourselves towards finding the answer, and once we find the answer, we can write a deeper question.
It doesn’t matter if you go on your personal quest to find the answer or not, it doesn’t even matter if there is an answer. By making the question, you open your mind to possibilities. That’s the whole point of this exercise.
The point of making questions is not to find only answers, but to keep digging deeper making use of better questions.
Keep Learning and questioning everything!
Side Note: Answering the first question of this post, I’ve heard the expression “That’s a good question” so many times that it wouldn’t surprise me if a guy gets that answer by the time that he gets down on his knee and asks: “Will you marry me?” to his girlfriend.