In the US, from childhood, we are rewarded for giving the right answer. Giving the right answer has become synonymous with high intelligence. Those who prefer to ask questions may be seen asincompetent. The questioner may appear to lack knowledge. Yet, it requires tremendous knowledge and insight to ask the right question. Furthermore, it is the person who conducts the inquiry that advances society with new discoveries.
Generally speaking, providing the right answer does not lead to innovation. Providing the right answer is a form of problem solving. When we solve problems, it does one thing: makes the problem go away. Robert Fritz, who developed the philosophy of Creative Structural Tension says, “While problem-solving has its place, as a persistent approach, it limits accomplishment. The elimination of a problem does not mean that the desired result can be created. As distinguished, solving a problem does not by design lead to a creation. Creating is taking action to bring into being that which does not yet exist: the desired outcome.”
Asking questions, on the other hand, opens our minds and doors to possibilities that the problem covered up. Not only do problems hide new possibilities, our knowledge and hunger for the right answer conceals what we don’t know. For example, it was once a fact that, if a human being traveled in a vehicle at more than 40 miles per hour, the human body would explode. As a result, in the early days of motorized vehicles, they were built with a top speed of 40 miles per hour. If scientists and engineers would have used the problem solving approach for this dilemma, perhaps they would have made driving suits that protected the body from imploding when it exceeded speeds of 40 miles per hour. However, asking what happens at 41 miles per hour led us to space travel where we have to fly at speeds over 17,000 miles per hour to fly into space and escape the earth’s gravitational pull.
Therefore, instead of rewarding people for giving the correct answer, it is critical that educators and business leaders start encouraging people to ask the right question. The advancement of society, economically and technologically, depends on the right questions.