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The Art of Asking Better Questions2011.01.31

    You may recall in school one or more of your teachers saying, “There are no stupid questions.” More likely you will remember someone saying, “What a stupid question!”


    Kids are curious creatures, and are constantly asking questions. Somewhere along the way at school and at work this curiosity is beaten out of us, and we stop asking questions. The quality of our questions is reduced to mere information gathering. Instead of wondering what makes the sky blue, we ask what’s on TV?


    Today we have invasive media making demands on our attention nearly everywhere we turn. It is so addictive that many people feel anxious without it. The problem living in a constant state of distraction is that this external stimulation leaves little room for internally generated thought and imagination.


    Leonardo da Vinci was not only one of the greatest geniuses of all time, he may possibly be the most curious human being yet born, and his notebooks prove it. Leonardo da Vinci lamented, “The average person looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.” And that was 500 years ago in Tuscany!


    To be an original thinker, you have to develop original perceptions. Hungarian Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent Gyorgi noted: “Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.” But how do you actually develop this kind of perception? You can start by learning how to ask better questions.


    I keep six honest serving-men
    They taught me all I knew;
    Their names are What and Why and When
    And How and Where and Who.
    I send them over land and sea,
    I send them east and west;
    But after they have worked for me,
    I give them all a rest.
    ~Rudyard Kipling (1865~1936)


    The root of the word “question” is quest. People who ask better questions inevitably learn more, discover more, and enjoy more of life. Even if you are not blessed with a curious mind, or if your natural curiosity has been jaded over time, it is possible to revive your curiosity to a higher level by following a simple discipline. Keep a notebook. This has been the practice of great minds for centuries, as we saw in a previous article in this column, Make Your Mark.


    A good way to develop your curiosity in all directions is to practice generating good questions in each category. Each type of question actually engages a different part of your brain. The fluency of your questions depends in part on how often you engage in that kind of thinking. Here is a way to seed your notebook with better questions.


    • ・Ask WHAT? This engages your visual sense, by filling in lots of interesting background detail.

    • ・Ask WHO? This engages your auditory sense, by bringing people and stories into the picture.

    • ・Ask WHEN? This engages your timing sense, improving your sense of rhythm and coordination.

    • ・Ask WHERE? This engages your kinesthetic sense, helping you navigate in space, and giving you a sense of place.

    • ・Ask HOW? This engages your logical sense, leading you to practical means of getting things done.

    • ・Ask WHY? This engages your energetic sense, and is the key to the spirit of motivation and mission.


    These are your six serving men. But they will only serve you if you engage them by writing down and asking these questions. The more you practice, the better you get.


    By asking them of yourself you will awaken your natural curiosity. By asking them of other people you will learn and discover more, as well as enjoy higher quality conversations. There is an art to asking questions, and the response you get will depend on your intent, your sincerity, and your skill.


    Of these six types of questions, perhaps the most important is WHY? It is the pinnacle of the pyramid, the one that gives meaning to all of the others.


    To find out why, I recommend a book called Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, as well as his website at


    Start by asking better questions and you’ll end with better answers.


    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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