In today’s world of exponential change, innovative companies must have a culture of inquiry. This Inquiry and embracing a culture of asking questions often become the starting point of innovation. Inquiry enables us to organise our thinking around what we don’t know. The questions that stick shines a light on where new opportunities lie, and this might indicate where companies need to go, where their future or industry is headed. But first let’s see where this inherent culture of inquiry is born.

Can children teach us anything about asking questions?

When is the last time you’ve heard a young child say: “Okay, I understand”. Never! They keep on asking questions. Why is it that children, especially between the four to five year old mark, are the best question askers in the world? That is exactly what lead to the invention of the Polaroid camera back in the 1940’s when Edwin Land’s four-year-old daughter asked an amazing, yet very simple question: “Why do we need to wait for the picture?”. I’m not quite sure why age four to five is our questioning peak period for human beings. Why do we out grow that? Do our education process and culture place certain boundaries around us? Why don’t we use inquiry to our advantage as we grow older?

Do we allow our own assumptions to get in the way?

Two of the biggest assets a four-year-old possess making them excellent at asking questions are that they don’t have any assumptions and they look at the world with a beginner’s mindset. Both of these are crucially important and one thing we should especially let go of is our own assumptions. When adapting the right mindset, we should not allow our thoughts to be clouded with our own assumptions. When we create things we don’t create it for ourselves, so why do we always rely so much on our own assumptions?

Should we be adaptable?

We’ve all heard of ‘IQ’ and ‘EQ’ but what about ‘AQ?’ — Adaptability Quotient. Our biggest risk in 2017 and beyond is to become fixed in our own ways. We keep doing what we’ve always done, because that is what always worked? Wrong! We need to be adaptable to succeed now more than ever. Being adaptable starts with asking the right questions. Being adaptable means we can unlearn our previous assumptions and truly start with a beginners mindset. We cannot ask the right questions if we stay fixed in our own perspective. Adapt, learn, unlearn and adapt again.

What traits do we need to adopt to learn?

If we succeed in looking at the world through a beginners lens, we are well on our way to breeding a culture of inquiry. The next step is to observe, listen and learn. When asking questions we don’t just ask those questions to ourselves, we ask them to other people, when we do this, we need to observe their behaviours, listen to what they are saying and learn from the experience. We have to unlearn everything we think we know in order to question and learn with fresh eyes and ears.

“Questions are this great launching point. What questions do is enable us to organise the way we attack a problem or the way we deal with the unknown.”— Warren Berger

Are we stuck in the boundaries?

Questions have this inherent quality that it leads us to the boundaries. The fact that we are wanting to ask the right questions, means we are not content with being within the boundaries. The only way to push the boundaries is to go beyond them, the only way to go beyond them is to find them in the first place. Without the right mindset and line of questioning we would just stick to our comfort zone.

Still not convinced? Why should I embrace questions?

  • It’s a great launching point.
  • It gets us organised.
  • By just asking the question, it challenges you.
  • The best questions are puzzles, that you want to solve.
  • The better questions you can ask, the better problem solver you will be.
  • It is the only way to stay curious.
  • It has the ability to build confidence and strip away fear.

How do I embrace a culture of enquiry in the workplace?

To establish a culture of inquiry the biggest challenge may be shifting your company to value “questions” over “answers”. In today’s world answers change overnight, and exploratory questions can help anticipate what’s coming. If we reward a culture of inquiry it gives people credit for finding problems and raising questions. Just because they found the problem does not mean they have the responsibility of fixing it as well. When focusing on just finding the right problems, we are on the right starting line before the gun goes off and we prevent starting too soon in the wrong direction.

What do I do as a leader to encourage this inquisitive culture?

As you move up in an organisation, people increasingly look to you for answers. But the best leaders don’t provide all of the solutions — they inspire curiosity, creativity, and deeper thinking in their employees. You’ve probably heard of the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

You can start of with this question: “How can I help?” This forces your employees to define the problem, which is the first step toward owning and solving it. Our challenge as leaders are to inspire the same curiosity, creativity, and deeper thinking in our employees much in the same way great teachers inspire it in their students — and that starts with asking the right questions.

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered, the point is to discover them.” — Galileo Galilei

A final thought before we part?

To wrap this up, it comes back to asking the right questions. This is so important to surface the right problems and questions that are worth considering. This allows us to spend time uncovering what the real issues and assumptions are, through thought provoking “Why” and “What” questions.

Any answer is only as good as the question asked.