False Negatives and Little Voices with Good Intentions

13 July 2020 Danielle Sneiders to head HelloFCB+

Albert Einstein famously said, “Question everything.” In other words, accept nothing without due reason. Why? Well, why not?

Do not get me wrong. I’m no conspiracy theorist but even I’d be hard pressed to admit that, with all the COVID-19 conspiracy theories flying around, I don’t find myself intrigued. But, this intrigue is less about entertaining the belief that Nations are enacting a game of proverbial Battleship with a pandemic, or buying into the idea that the mess we find ourselves in is a wholly orchestrated one. No, it is about one thing the conspiracy theorists around us do so undeniably well: question everything.

In a world that is so obsessed with always having answers and solutions (“5 ways to enhance your relationship”, “Top tips to do better at your job”, etc), why are we so quick to leap to accepting and answering, when we do not even ask the requisite questions? I am not about to offer up an answer to this very question, mind you. This is more about the business of asking why we do not ask enough questions, and the inherent potential for success we overlook as a result.

Everyone can and should be a questionologist (a made-up word attributable to Warren Berger, who writes wonderfully on beautiful questions). Question everything. Why are some things still being done in the same age-old ways? Why does someone get selected for a promotion over you when you are equally qualified? Why do some people respond better to certain personalities than others? Why do we often do what is told when we know full well there are too many puzzle pieces missing to make it worthwhile at the time? Question everything

All the greatest inventors and scientists, past and present, asked questions. Isaac Newton asked “Why does an apple fall from a tree?” Charles Darwin asked “Why does the moon not fall into the Earth?”. And Albert Einstein asked “What would the universe look like if I rode through it on a beam of light?” Again, I say, question everything

Questioning does not come from a point of doubt or uncertainty. Far from it, for questioning the status quo can breed creativity, innovation and learning. Studies have shown that 4-year-olds ask as many as 200 to 300 questions per day, and it is through their incessant question-asking that they learn. Questioning is the art of learning.

The power of asking questions cannot be over-emphasised. Quizzical, inquisitive minds do well to better understand the world and look at things just a bit differently. Brands that do the same often stand apart from others because they find new and unchartered ways within their exploration of the unknown. They question what’s out there and why. They ask the easy questions as well as the tough ones, and they constantly seek new facets of what they are told. In this time of great change, we need to create a much more radical future and the status quo is not how we will achieve that.

Take Mavericks such as Virgin and Red Bull, for example, who throw caution to the wind daily. They question the norm in favour of the new and the different. And look at how well this works for them! We see fun, playful, downright clever things from these brands and very seldom can anything they develop be labeled boring or “meh”. True to form, their marketing and communications teams likely comprise renegades who refuse to simply be instruction-takers, who choose to question the whys and the hows to the point where the end result is like no other. They are a bunch of questionologists.

There’s a clear purpose to it, however, rather than simply asking questions for questions’ sake. “Questions are such powerful tools that they can be beneficial—perhaps particularly so—in circumstances when question asking goes against social norms,” note Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John in a 2018 piece for HBR. Skillfully asking questions, the duo posit, can unlock learning and even improve interpersonal bonding or help build rapport. Further, Joan Cheverie in The Professional Development Commons even goes as far as noting that “Improved ‘questioning’ can strengthen managerial effectiveness.” Some of the best leaders today are known to be avid questioners as well as listeners.

The key is to begin by simply asking more questions, and you will learn to ask better questions, and even the right questions. Remember your manners, your tone, and your timing. Let your questions be informed by the context, and let them provoke, inspire and, in some cases, even give shock value. Where appropriate, ask questions the other person will enjoy answering. Be consumed by the need to learn, grow, and thrive by simply allowing curiosity and a hunger for further understanding and lateral thinking. Question everything. Because, why not?

We are by nature a curious bunch, some more than others. Blindly following instructions and orders, and always listening to what we are told, has never been something modern day humans are very good at (again, some more than others). So why are we losing our instinctive need to question everything as we proceed through life?

The clear paradox exists in that, if we do not ask the right questions, how do we arrive at the right solutions? Perhaps, just maybe, if we start to become greater questionologists, we may see a new generation of leaders, thinkers, visionaries, luminaries and more. A generation that flips everything on its head and changes the game entirely.

So, thank you for the lesson, conspiracy theorists: Question everything. I certainly will, and if reading this has done anything for you, I hope it is that it has awakened a near insatiable curiosity within you.