There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance - Socrates
One of the most recognized persons seen as the greatest philosohpiers who ever lived was Socrates. Socrates always asked Why. This approach is called the Socratic method.
This is where we ask the question of why in order to get to the root cause of an issue. Socrates said “only by asking why can one get to the real truth”. In the end Socrates was killed because he asked too many questions in a bid to change the status quo.
However, it is only by endeavouring to know more which makes us improve. Some of these questions can and will be interpreted as dumb, silly, irrelevant or stupid questions by others.
Let us together look at why we need to appreciate the dumb questions that are asked of us.
What are dumb questions?
This is my definition of a dumb question.
Dumb questions are “questions which may seem irrelevant but provide insights into a topic, either for now or the future.”
Types of dumb questions
There are two types of dumb questions.
- Those that are asked:
An example is when someone gives a presentation, and you are bold enough to ask a question. Even if the question is no entirely intelligent, it is not a silly question. You entirely and wholeheartedly believe that it would contribute to the conversation. However, you are rebuffed and laughed away with the comment that “this is neither the place nor time” for this question.
- Those that are never asked:
An example is when you are in class, and the teacher asks are there any questions? And the class remains silent. They fear asking that question, which they believe would look make them look stupid in front of their peers.
Why people ask you dumb questions
A few times people may have asked you questions, which made you think.
- Are they serious?
- How could they not know the answer to it?
- Is it a rhetorical question?
The answers to the above are yes, no, and no in that order. We should understand that we are all different people. We comprehend issues differently. We all have different IQs. And finally, we are all at different stages in our lives. The common or running thread here is different.
For instance, when I started dating my wife, she asked me questions. I would then proceed to nicely explain the answers to her. Nowadays, when she has a question, she googles it for herself. She similarly directs me to google and apply a little bit of research if there is something I want to know. Most of the times we debate about the ages of our favorite actors and actresses. So we use google to research that together.
I have learnt to appreciate all the dumb questions people ask me. It lets me know a few salient points. A few of these include;
You used too many jargons:
Say it in the language of the listener
If someone does not understand what I said, then it means that I failed in making the subject as crystal clear and simple to them as possible. It should have been as bright as day. And for this reason, I prefer not to use jargons.
I will only do so when I am among an audience that understand what I am saying.
Additionally, in my explanations I would not ever like to make someone feel like they are small, simply because they do not understand a concept yet. Say it simply, and without big words to get the message across.
You were not clear enough:
This is directly related to the prior point
Vagueness is not appreciated, especially when you have to work together with others.
For example, in the Battle of Gettysburg, the conflict that ended the Confederate’s assault on the North, an unclear order was given.
General Lee asked Ewell if the Cemetery Hill could be “practically” taken. Ewell should have asked the “dumb” question. What does “practically” mean exactly. Since the order was not specific, he made his own decision on what to do. He decided that it was not the Cemetery Hill can not be practicablly taken. This was a missed opportunity.
In the end, General Lee lost this decisive battle. General Lee tried to take this same hill and lost hundreds of soldiers. Most notably in Pickett’s Charge. If General Lee had only been clear enough or Ewell has asked a question for clarity, then the Hill would have been taken without as much loss of lives. This point of the battle is cited in many articles, and documentaries as where General Lee lost the upper hand.
If you put enough effort into it, you would be able to make any topic comprehensible and clear enough for your listeners to understand it as well. Everything I have come to realize has an explanation. Hence explain it better.
For example, there was a time when I too had trouble with basic concepts in programming like classes, objects, and loops. However, with enough reading by the aid of authors who broke down each subject down to its basics, I too understood.
You were not a good teacher:
Being a teacher is a multifaceted role
I doff my hat off to teachers all over the world.
Teachers make the unexplainable very clear. Teachers take the clay and mould our minds into perfect sculptures. One day, I would like to follow my wife footsteps and teach in some capacity. This means that I need to develop my tolerance and temperance like she has.
On that, I will keep taking her cues.
You have a messy communications strategy:
Communications is a major reason for breakdown of relationships
Another reason, you might not be understood is because your communications strategy is poor. Consequently, nobody understands your product. You may have a brilliant product, and even a brilliant design. Unfortunately, in disseminating this information to your audience the essential details went out of the window.
Perhaps your target audience need the details
- as a video advertisement.
- as a pdf brochure or document
- as a voice note
However we can, we should learn to make the subject matter as understandable, and as accessible as much as possible for our target audience.
You need to improve
You are dying if you are standing still. Grow, and more forward to improve
Questions, clients have asked me to have made me tweak the product just a little bit. In the end that tweak has been all the difference between a dying product and a successful one.
Some of the best improvements have come from novices asking the silliest of questions. Thus appreciate that with every question comes the opportunity to grow.
Always ask “Why”
Dumb questions do not come only from the dim-witted ones. They come from anyone.
Lawyers, entrepreneurs, parents, doctors and all types of professionals. No question is wrong. No question is for the wrong place and time, and finally no question is too dumb.
I hope I have left you with a few reasons why the dumb questions are the most relevant.
Kindly share your comments on this as well as other values that can be derived from seemingly dumb questions.