The Value You Add Is In the Questions You Ask

The value you add is in the questions you ask.Ours is an era of innovation, change, and speed – not just in the marketplace, but also in society and culture.

Tom Friedman’s new book Thank You for Being Late  is a field guide to this era of immense change and how to thrive in it.  He writes about the convergence of immense computing power, instantaneous communication, and the dramatic drop in material costs.   Never before has information and innovation flowed so freely.  As an example, he tells of a conversation with Luana Iorio, then-director of GE’s Niskayuna Research Center:

“in the old days…when GE wanted to build a jet engine part, a designer would have to design the product, then GE would have to build the machine tools to make a prototype of that part, which could take up to a year, and then it would manufacture the part and test it, with each test iteration taking a few months.  The whole process… often took two years from when you first had the idea.” (89)

Now, Iorio says, engineers design a prototype using 3d software, print it out on a 3-d printer, and test that day.  They can adjust their design, re-print, and re-test several times over the course of a day

“The feedback loop is so short now… in a couple of days you can have a concept, the design of the part, you get it made, you get it back and test whether it is valid.  Within a week you have it produced.”

From two years to a week.  That’s impressive

What’s more, Friedman suggests that in this age of big data, global communication, and rapid feedback, value is not necessarily held in what you know.   Knowledge is cheap.  Not only is there someone on the other side of the world who knows what you know, but now sophisticated algorithms help computers learn and improve so that they can do tasks better than humans.  For instance, IBM has developed the famous “Watson” computer to learn how to read medical images and learn how to diagnose disease faster and more reliably than a human can.  Watch out Radiologists – your job may be in jeopardy.

Simply put, your knowledge does not really make you special in this world.  And if you build your life on being “the expert” you will increasingly make yourself a bland widget, a clone in a field of talking heads, or irrelevant.

The value you add is in the questions you ask.

Friedman quotes IBM’s John Kelly III:

“In the twenty-first century, knowing all the answers won’t distinguish someone’s intelligence – rather, the ability to ask all the right questions will be the mark of true genius.” (103)

Why is this the mark of genius?

Because asking questions is easy.

Asking timely, wise, and powerful questions is hard.

I believe spiritual growth shapes us to ask better questions.   It leads us to ask questions about meaning, purpose, and reality.  It leads us to consider the relationship of the parts of creation to the whole.  It leads us to ponder not just if something works, but also if something is worthwhile.

I’m but a student in the art of asking questions.  I’m still trying to learn how to ask better questions of myself and the world.  Though I would hardly call myself a master, I do have a few thoughts on how to grow and develop in the art of asking better questions:

1) Allow yourself to be questioned.

the best way to grow in life is to allow ourselves to be questioned by GodI believe the best way to grow in life is to allow ourselves to be questioned by God.  So often people go to the Bible looking for answers, either dissecting it like a frog on a table or treating it like a Magic 8 ball that will offer up just the right nugget of wisdom for the moment.  But what if we simply went to the Bible and let God ask questions of us through it?

Hebrews 4:12 says:  “For the word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

When was the last time you let scripture evaluate your thoughts and attitudes.  When was the last time scripture held up a mirror to your soul and showed you what was there.  When was the last time you sat still with a scripture and listened for God’s still small voice, the inner nudge, the spinning of the inner compass.

To develop the skill of asking better questions, begin by allowing yourself to be questioned.

2) Slow your activity.

You are not your resume.  You more than the sum of all you do.  Stop working.  Take a day of rest.  Calm your mind.  Take a sabbath.  It is in the quiet, in the points of rest that the most powerful insights come.

3) Nourish your curiosity.

Pay attention to the questions that you naturally ask: the strange trails of curiosity that catch your attention.  If it catches your attention, there is likely a reason – dig a little deeper, follow the trail of those questions and see where they lead.  Never before have you had so much instantaneous access to information.  Curious about what the largest statue in the world is?  Perhaps that will lead you to a comparison of Russia’s “Call of the Motherland” with America’s “Statue of Liberty.  Maybe that will lead to deeper questions about what these statues say about our respective cultures and values(Yes, that was actually a line of curiosity that I followed last week).

Was this encouraging, interesting, or helpful?  Let me know in the comments below.  Also, please share with your friends.  And, if you haven’t done so, be sure to sign up for my newsletter – you’ll get a regular dose of inspiration and encouragement in your inbox.



3 thoughts on “The Value You Add Is In the Questions You Ask

  1. Russell, thank you for this insightful post. I also appreciate Friedman’s book. Another book you might find helpful is “Leading with “Questions,” by Michael Marquardt.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Thank You For Being Late by Thomas Friedman – Horizons of the Possible

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