If you have kids, when they were around 4 years old you were subjected to them asking a single question that they would keep asking over and over till it would drive you crazy. One study found that they average about 73 questions per day. What is the main question they ask? You know the answer to this one:
Why is the sky blue? Where did I come from? Where did the moon go? Why are those animals wrestling? “That’s a good question to ask your mom, kiddo.”
And the Why’s usually doesn’t stop with the first answer, does it? You might think you gave them a great response, but as soon as they ask it for the second, or third, or fourth time, it gets frustrating:
It doesn’t seem like their questions are ever going to end (hiding doesn’t work, you’ve tried it); and
It is frustrating how quickly you run out of good answers.
But in reality, the last thing we really want to do is to stop kids from asking questions. It’s a fundamental way they learn and develop. Maybe one of the reasons why our own development as adults slows down later in life is because we stop asking so many questions.
Are we telling our kids, consciously or subconsciously, to stop asking questions?
Now, there is a point later in life that kids start to ask questions again. Anyone have a teenager at home? If you are holding up your hand, let me comfort you with these words - this too shall pass.
For teens, the questions change from being about the world around them to directly about them. Why do I have to do chores? Why can’t I go out with my friends? The questions at this stage are less about how nature works and more about how you work. We get frustrated with these questions because it feels like they are challenging our authority.
But… maybe even these teen questions are good questions as well. Let’s turn it around for you – how well do you like it when someone at work tells you “Because I said so?” Friends, that’s not a good answer in the home or the workplace.
Are we telling our work staff, consciously or subconsciously, to stop asking questions?
Let’s just be honest - we sometimes get frustrated with coworkers asking questions, and probably for the very same reasons we lost our minds when our kids were doing it:
It seems like questions are taking the place of doing work; and
There may not be good answers for their questions.
I totally get #1. You can almost see the fear in people’s eyes when someone starts asking questions in a meeting, wondering if they are summoning the dreadful Analysis Paralysis, the dreaded gorgon that stops us in our tracks and wreaks havoc with our schedules. (I’ll have another post coming soon that gives you the tools to slay that monster.)
But before we jump into action, let’s make sure we aren’t squashing the drive to ask questions. Because sometimes activity is just a way to mask the fact that we don’t have the answers; which gets us to point #2.
If we don’t have clarity around why we are asking someone to do something, then maybe that something doesn’t need to be done.
Here’s a scary equation that often drives people to squelch questions:
Time Cost of Asking Questions = Time Cost of Doing Something
It’s easy to look at that equation and go, “Oh my! We don’t have time for questions! Someone do something, for goodness sake!” But what we don’t think about is the huge costs of doing the wrong things that could have been saved with a small amount of questions:
Time Cost of Asking Questions < Time Cost of Doing the Wrong Thing + Time Cost of Rework
For some reason it is easy to think that asking questions is far less valuable than doing actions - even when we don’t know exactly why we are doing it! Activity does not equal value; creating artifacts or a product that no one really wants (or creating emails that keep you from thinking) drives value down. In fact, asking people to think about what they are doing might be the most valuable thing you can do.
I’m encouraging you to bring out your inner 4-year-old and keep asking why – it may drive the people around you a little nuts but they may just end up thanking you in the end.