I recently asked a question to over 200 people, 202, to be exact. I asked them,
"What's one of the most important questions you ask yourself to keep growing personally and/or professionally?"
I've learned a few things from their answers. First, while the question certainly matters, the most important thing is that you at least ask something. Just about any question will prompt you to focus your thoughts and lead to actions. Second, the questions we ask reveal something deep within us, our principles, values, and priorities. You can learn a lot about yourself by noticing the kinds of questions you ask.
Questions are how we learn, and learning is essential to growth. Once we stop asking questions, we stop growing. Remember your early childhood, say around the age of two or three? Ok, maybe that's a stretch so think about a preschool child you know and the questions they ask. They ask about everything. They ask big questions. They ask obvious questions. They ask questions most adults have long since stopped asking. Their questions come from a naturally curious mind. We're born wanting to know "why." You know that's true if you've spent even a few minutes with a preschool child.
Somewhere along the way, self-awareness becomes self-consciousness, fear becomes more powerful than our curiosity and we ask fewer questions, safer questions. Recognizing the value of questions and even putting in some dedicated effort to reconnect with our natural curiosity can be enormously helpful for both personal and professional growth.
I found all the responses to be insightful. They were thoughtful and showed genuine intellectual curiosity. They also covered a surprisingly wide range of topics and perspectives.
Some of the questions were quite short, even just a phrase, such as, "What's next?" "What needs to be done?""What don't I know?""Why are you doing this?"They seem simple and even obvious at first glance but as you reflect on them, you'll find that their simplicity has that small but powerful spark needed to bring clarity and motivation. Remember Einstein's famous formula e=mc2. Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying, "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Don't overlook a simple question.
Some were big questions, really big questions such as, "Why am I here?" "Am I making this decision out of fear or faith?" "Is what I'm doing for naught? How much of what I'm putting my time and effort into is going to matter or be remembered?" Big picture questions cause us to lift our eyes up from the road in front of us and have a clearer idea of why we're on this path. Goals can be a hindrance in some ways. When running a marathon, it's best to keep your eyes on the next step, the next hill, or some objective within sight. But the bigger question is what put you on the course in the first place.
Some questions were strategic or tactical, focusing on a specific objective. "What is the next role/area that I'm interested in moving into and what am I doing to prepare for that move?""What new technology can I learn? What technology do I already know but can use differently?""Out of everything I have to get done today, which task can I become more efficient and productive at doing?"
Some were deeply spiritual questions. "Did I talk with God today?" "What is God directing me to do?" "Am I working effectively in God's kingdom for the eternal benefit of Him and others?" These questions are intensely personal and reflect the values and beliefs that matter most to us. They are foundational questions with everything else built on how we answer them.
Some focused on relationships. "Who am I helping?" "What can I do today to make at least one person's life better?" "How can I be more grateful and place myself in a position to help others?" Relational questions take us out of ourselves. Ultimately, we are all in the people business, meeting the needs of others. An article on the website of the Better Business Bureau says, "Your most important asset is the relationships you build along the way. Whether those be with customers, suppliers or others in your supply chain, these are more important than bricks and mortar."
Some turn our attention inward for personal development. "How am I better today than I was last week, last month, or even a year ago? Am I of more value o the company today than last year?" "Do I give myself enough "self-care" time, so I can regenerate?" "Is what I'm doing at the moment going to add to my personal improvement or business growth?" Personal growth is always up to us. Others will care and may offer encouragement and assistance but the decision to grow, or not, and the responsibility for acting on the decision is ours alone.
Asking questions has been the basis of learning for some of the world's most brilliant minds and oldest cultures. Socrates was famous for using questions to stimulate the thinking of his students, so famous that this method of teaching is known as the Socratic Method.
Isadore Rabi, winner of the 1944 Nobel Prize in physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied, "My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, 'What did you learn today?' But my mother used to ask: 'Izzy, did you ask a good question today?' That made the difference. Asking good questions made me a scientist."
I would suggest that before every good answer is a great question. What are you asking today? I'd love to hear from you.