Hello readers, I hope you’ve been up to nerdy things since we last met. And if not, you’re still welcome to tag along, this is all about learning – the nerdy way or not.
It’s time for another jolly ride, let’s be off and discover yet again more amazing stuffs of the mind – asking questions.
Today we are dealing with the mother of all learning – inquiry.
We would explore the art (or science if you like) of asking questions that prompts just the right answer.
You would agree with me if I say that the quality of a question is directly related to the quality of the answer one gets.
In other words, questions are like the ancestors of answers – there is some kind of genetic relationship between them. The nature of the question always imprint itself on the form of the answer.
Needless to say, that an ill-formed question will almost always prompt a deformed answer.
Inquiry is a vital link in the process of learning. Every form of active acquisition of knowledge begins with and is steered by it.
It links curiosity (which is the first step of unraveling a mystery) to experimentation, examination or exploration; bringing the ignorant to a state of awareness or enlightenment that puts him in a position better than the one he was at the beginning of the inquiry.
Having said so much, I trust that by now, we have a very good grasp of the subject at hand.
So, let’s dig in and have fun!
1. How you ask is as important as what you ask.
Let’s go back to the ancestor-progeny relationship we put forward with regards to questions and answers.
A person that asks question(s) is like a midwife of knowledge. The one who answers is the one giving birth to the knowledge and the answer is the baby.
The midwife is not just concerned about getting the baby out of the womb (the what), but just as important is making sure the baby gets out alive (the how).
When we ask questions, we should be acutely aware that we are defining the parameters of our curiosity or ignorance.This definition is what guides the person designated to answer the question.
It is more than appropriate to say that being wrongly guided leads one to the wrong destination.
Unfortunately, wrong definition leads to wrong parameterization, and wrong parameterization leads to the wrong conclusions.
If this is the case, one’s last state is sadly worse than the first and asking a question would have done no good at all.
2. A series of simple questions is better a complex one.
The essence of a question is simplifying a complex concept.
Starting out on the wrong foot of complexity simply worsens one’s ignorance either by promoting a complicated answer or confusing the perception of the person answering entirely.
When it comes to asking questions, small is more.
Knowledge, if it is to be beneficial is not just to be accumulated in misshapen lumps but organized into logical procedures that form concise parts of a larger whole.
The only way to do this is to structure one’s question to gather answers in bits and bites, line upon line, precept upon precept, gradually chipping away the mountain of ignorance while also steadfastly building the palace of knowledge.
Assaulting that huge mountain of ignorance all at once dulls one’s axe. Even if the answers were correct, the information deluge would overwhelm us, leaving us lost and mentally worn.
So folks, keep it small to get it right.
3. Start with the basics.
The process of inquiry builds on prior knowledge.
Usually, we ask questions based on our perception of our ignorance of the topic.
In other words, we ask questions to make up for what we know about not what we do not know.
This ‘starting knowledge’ as I call it, is critical to the kind of questions we ask and of course, the kind of answers we get.
A flawed first-knowledge will most certainly give us a wrong bias that might get us off track.
If the person answering does not have an insight into the flaw, we are bound to get floored.
And even if we do get the right answer, it won’t work because the combination of a flawed premise and a fine answer will give the wrong kind of surprise.
It’s like having a fine building on a not-so-fine foundation, the building goes down before long.
So, begin every question with an initial request for whoever is answering to lay out the basics – whether you know it or not – to make sure you’ve got it right.
With the basics intact, flawed biases, wrong preconceptions and misleading perspectives are eliminated.
4. Ask the right person.
That should be obvious, right? Maybe not.
But if it is, what makes a teenager ask her friends or questionable websites about sensitive issues that we are not allowed to veer into in this discussion. And don’t think that’s just adolescents, even grown-ups are not exempted!
Two things make us do this – ego and sentiment.
They are both psychological predispositions that tend to becloud our judgement. Ego makes us not ask someone we feel we are superior to.
It could also make us not ask someone before whom we do not want to appear ignorant. Well, there is nothing impressive or attractive about ignorance.
If I may advice you on that issue, I think they are probably going to respect you more for being open and honest about your limits and consider themselves valued for you asking them to be the one to fill the knowledge gap; if they are respectable people, that is, the kind of people you should be hanging out with in the first place.
The second is sentiment.
We are so used to some avenues of answers or so emotionally attached to them that we feel they can never be wrong. Except they are God, may I put it to you that your premise is wrong.
While ego has to do with identifying our own limits, dealing with sentiment requires that we objectively assess the limits of our closest associates so as to know when to approach someone else for answers.
Knowledge is objective, seeking it with while putting on subjective lenses corrupts it and destroys its validity.
So, before you ask that person, ask if that person is the right person because only the right person will give you the right answer.
5. Cast a wide net.
Essentially, what we are saying here is that you seek your answer from more than one source.
An indirectly implied question from the previous point is how you identify the right person.
You would wonder how you could ever justify the answer you get from a source, right person or not. It’s simple, let your inquiry be deep as it is wide.
A strong information base guarantees a strong, steady and perhaps unassailable knowledge base; not to mention getting multiple perspectives on the topic.
No matter how sure you are of the person answering, take the pain to explore other avenues; not just for verification but also to give you a richer, stronger grasp of the subject matter.
The internet these days afford us this opportunity of being the proverbial curious blind men, appraising our elephant from different directions.
It is for this simple but effective reason that the academia justifies a finding only after the results have been reproduced under identical conditions.
So, don’t just inquire, go the extra mile of doing meaningful research. Perhaps, someone someday might leverage on your diligence to deal a mortal blow to his own ignorance.
I would deal with this last because it is the foundation behind the foundation. We stressed earlier that questions are the basis for learning.
Curiosity in the same way is the basis for asking any kind of question.
To be curious about a subject is to find it genuinely interesting albeit, nothing is interesting if you’re not interested.
There is this primal ecstasy that comes from having our curiosity satisfied.
We feel a sense of being empowered by somehow knowing what we want to know through questions.
Most strides in development spring first from curiosity even before money. Nurturing one’s curiosity sets one up for an innovative life, not without disappointments but nonetheless full of life changing discoveries.
One learns to pioneer, set the pace and hence make the rules – may I ask you, what could be sweeter than that?
Curiosity is the key to asking. It is like a master key that opens all doors of knowledge. It is a key so vital that without it, we will still be stuck in the primitive ages, hacking away at stones and not even wondering what an easier life looks and feels like.
So, boldly throw open the intuitive doors of curiosity and imagination and see the world respond similarly by magically opening up to you…