A couple of months ago, my youngest was back from college on her winter break. As a sophomore, she is deep into the learning cycle. We were out spending time together one day and she was probing my knowledge on a work-related topic with one question after another. I was engaging in a meaningful conversation that was transferring knowledge without me thinking about it.
Suddenly, she said to me “I’m sorry, am I asking too many questions?” That thought had literally not crossed my mind. Every day that I’m with clients, I get question after question so it didn’t seem that weird to me. What was it that made my daughter say that? I reflected on that and realized that it’s quite different having a five-year-old and a nearly 20-year-old. we expect 5-year-olds to ask questions like “why is the sky blue?” Apparently there was some stigma, that as an adult she couldn’t ask a series of questions in a row. I told her that she absolutely wasn’t and to never stop asking questions. I told her to ask as many as you need to. I think others struggle with this too.
You can’t extract wisdom from experts in their field without asking big, tough Qs. As a teacher and adviser on innovation and its process, people are always asking me things as if they are lawyers trying to get me to prove something; however, very rarely are they asking meaningful questions like my daughter was asking that day. I have a great explanation most of the time. I don’t always and when I don’t, I say so.
Organizations that ask the right set of questions gain significant experience and insight into innovation and receive a corresponding cultural benefit to their organization. Ones that ask no questions or the wrong type of questions remain stuck, unwilling to learn. Innovation demands this curiosity. Take advantage of subject matter experts. Ask deep, probing questions. Really want to learn. Don’t act like you know it all, you don’t. Asking them arms you with an competitive advantage and consent you and your organization apart. And like my daughter moving forward, never apologize for asking too many.