The Diminishing Value of Answers

It used to be that answers were power.  Answers were not only important, in and of themselves, but they represented something valuable – the capacity and the willingness to problem-solve.  If you had the answers, you would have the advantage, in part because you were better at problem-solving.  You would get the best scholarships to the best universities.  You would get the best jobs.  And you would get promoted faster.  All because answers weren’t easily and readily available.  You had to work for them.

Today, is different.  Answers are an easy-to-come-by commodity.  The ability to solve task-oriented problems is becoming less important.  If you want an answer or solution to just about any question or problem, just ask Siri or Google.  No matter where you might be, if you can gain access to the interwebs, solutions are easily accessible.  And most everyone has the same swift access to the same answers.

The fact that computer-aided, “at-your-fingertips” solutions to problems are getting more sophisticated and wide-ranging every day is old news.  In a well-shared story from some time ago, the IBM computer, Watson, answered questions faster and with more precision than TV’s Jeopardy champs.  More recently, a computer was built that recognizes and sorts images of dog breeds faster and more accurately than humans.

So, if solving problems and gaining answers is becoming an easier process and the playing field to access those answers is almost completely flat, what separates the successful from all others?  I would argue that the ability to ask the insightful, creative, well-crafted questions and being genuinely interested in understanding others are the most important characteristics for success today and, especially, in the future.  An authentic curiosity about people and the ability to thoughtfully craft questions provide more than answers and solutions, they provide understanding.

But the importance of learning how to ask good questions isn’t getting its due.  Our schools still largely teach students to memorize answers and solutions.  And in our workplaces, we are still conditioned to believe that the person with the “right” answer or solution (as if there is only one) should be the boss.

For those who aspire for extraordinary results, though, it is the art of question-asking that holds the most promise and value.  In every area of your life and work – but especially in development where meaningful donor engagement with your institution is the gold standard – developing your “human curiosity” muscle and becoming the best possible question-asker will do more to enable you to influence others, get results, and advance your career than any other skill-set you can develop.  Caring more and gaining the knowledge to ask insightful questions will help you more than anything else you can learn.


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