Ask questions like a 4-year-old


“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – Albert Einstein

A couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of babysitting my 4-year-old niece for the weekend. I was fascinated by her level of curiosity and ability to keep asking questions that took us deeper and deeper into a topic.

There was no fear or shame in her pursuit for truth or fact. Indeed it was relentless, and at times downright exhausting!

My ideas about the world were being challenged in a natural and positive way, but despite me being a big advocate for encouraging curiosity, and enjoying the opportunity to explore a 4-year-old perspective, I found myself falling into the age-old trap of saying, ‘that’s just the way it is’. My impatience got the better of me, and I tried to shut the questioning and curiosity down.

Sadly, corporate reality isn’t much different. Both throughout my career, and now through the eyes of my clients, I see the same thing happening. Of course there are no 4-year-olds present, but bias and impatience are prevalent, resulting in questions and ideas being shut down.

How many opportunities are being ignored in your organisation because of protocol, impatience, or worse still – ego?

Is there a cultural perception that confuses curiosity with ignorance and stupidity? At times leaders feel they need to know all the answers, so instead of asking questions and getting curious, I’ve seen discussion shut down through justifying and intellectualising, rather than accepting there may be a different way – setting the cultural standard for the organisation.

We all know that doing the same thing over and over again will just get us the same results. So why is it that so many intelligent professionals succumb to relying on antiquated process or leadership strategy without questioning it?

There are a couple of quotes that come to mind; It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt’ Mark Twain. Or perhaps you’ve heard the Justin Sewell quote, ‘There’s no such thing as a dumb question, but there’s a lot of inquisitive idiots’. These quotes are a little tongue in cheek I know, but with this kind of social banter, no wonder people are afraid of challenging an idea, or suggesting there may be a different way.

I’m not suggesting that everything warrants posing a barrage of questions that challenge and oppose every detail. However, if growth is slowing, the innovation pipeline is looking bleak, or competitors are running rings around your organisation, maybe you need to start asking questions like a 4-year-old.

Have the courage to be relentless, exhausting and don’t settle for answers like, ‘we’ve always done it that way’.

‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ (Mahatma Ghandi), and encourage others to do the same.