Questions Beat Answers

I’ve spent thousands of hours learning — about myself, my work, my business, and plenty of other things. One gradual shift that’s been happening is that questions seem to have become a lot more valuable than answers.

I rarely go “Eureka!” anymore when I have an idea, or even when I decide that idea is the right course of action to pursue. To be fair, I also don’t jump up and down with joy when I think of a better angle to look at a problem from — but a good question always does come with a sense of curiosity and wonder, and often, it is that sense that seems to be guiding me in the right direction. More so than, “I’ve got it! I will launch an online course!” or other epiphanies.

Answers are easy. My brain spits out an answer to every question instantly. Not because it knows all the answers, but because giving answers is what it likes to do. As a result, our error rate for answers is incredibly high — not just for factual questions but for subjective ones too. Sitting with the question, stewing in it, is much harder, but that’s the kind of deliberate practice that pushes our brain to deliver its best performance.

A question offers multiple new paths without forcing you onto one. It provides room for creativity without demanding judgment. From a question, you can let answers evolve. An answer shuts down the conversation and pushes you in a fixed direction. Sometimes, the latter is exactly what we must do, but in a world where there’s often no right or wrong, allowing your answers to slowly evolve as you go is a kinder, more flexible way of navigating.

When you’re a tiny pinball in a giant machine, it’s more important to bounce off every surface than to aim for a particular hole. Answers are enticing when we are young, but after we butt heads with a few metaphorical walls, we become wary of them — and perhaps that’s as it should be. In the long run, being well-attuned to questions is just as, perhaps more important than, listening for answers. Mind — and enjoy — your questions.