Big Think - Questions Are the New Answers, with Warren Berger

You know, the idea that questions are becoming more valuable than answers it seems kind of counterintuitive, but it's actually an idea that's being really embraced these days in Silicon Valley and other areas of other centers of innovation. And the reason why is if you look at a lot of the innovations and breakthroughs today and you trace them back, as I did in my research, to their origin, a lot of times what you find at the root of it all is a great question; a beautiful question of someone asking why isn't someone doing this or what if someone tried to do that? So I found that questions are often at the root of innovation. And that's why in Silicon Valley these days they're actually saying questions are the new answers. But at the same time it's important to note that questions aren't just important to innovators or tech people, they're a survival skill for all of us. And that becomes even more true in a time of dynamic change.

I mean we've got so much that we have to adapt to. We have to solve problems. We have to deal with change, uncertainty and questioning is the tool or one of the primary tools that lets you do that. A great definition I saw for questioning is that questioning enables us to organize our thinking around what we don't know. So in a time when so much knowledge is all around us, answers are at our fingertips, we really need great questions in order to be able to know what to do with all that information and find our way to the next answer.

If you look at the research, a four-year-old girl is asking like as much as 300 questions a day. And when kids go into school you see this steady decline that happens as they go through the grade levels to the point where questioning in schools, by junior high school, is almost at zero. There are a lot of reasons why questioning declines as we get older. But one of the key issues is that in schools we really value the answers. And there is almost no value placed on asking a good question. In fact, the teachers now are so stressed to teach to the test and to cover so much material that they really can't even entertain a lot of questions even if they want to. So it becomes a real problem in our school system, in our education system.

I think people are starting to address it, try to deal with it. In my research I found a number of teachers, schools that are trying to place more emphasis on questioning. I came upon a great nonprofit group, the Right Question Institute, that has developed a whole system of class exercises that are just focused on encouraging kids to ask as many questions as possible, just formulate questions and think in questions. And that's kind of the direction we need to move in. It's simply a matter of finding ways within the school system to allow and encourage kids to think of their own questions.


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