Observe more. Ask questions.

The slogan or subtitle of this site is “Ask questions. Observe more”. I suppose I could have included “challenge assumptions”. It’s all in a similar vein. While in engineering school, a big overarching theme was understanding our assumptions and to accounting for them. If that seems like a simple thing, often it isn’t due to our inability to see what is sitting right in front of us. They are called assumptions for a reason. This is where “observe more” comes from, to remind me to take time to look and listen.

Observation feeds curiosity. Curiosity leads to more questions. Asking questions leads to more discovery and more information. It’s all a vicious cycle, really. But observing more requires empathy, perspective, and sometimes a healthy dose of skepticism. Not an easy feat.

So to conclude this moment of pontification, I say “ask questions” because it’s the only way we learn anything. It’s the only way we challenge the status quo. To reference Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas in their article:

Think back to your time growing up and in school. Chances are you received the most recognition or reward when you got the correct answers. Later in life, that incentive continues. At work, we often reward those who answer questions, not those who ask them. Questioning conventional wisdom can even lead to being sidelined, isolated, or considered a threat.

Since then, there have been other articles discussing the power of asking better questions rather than focusing on seeking answers. It turns out proper questioning can be a very advantageous thing to do.

If you’ll spare me an anecdote: freshman year of college I had a Turkish roommate from Istanbul. Alican was a very kind man and it’s always a pleasure when I bump into him. I was always fascinated with cultures and languages and I remember there were moments when he would point out words in Turkish that simply did not exist in English. (Of course I cannot think of one, but perhaps something to do with sneezing or apologizing? Gosh, it’s been too long.) My point is, the limitation of our language is sometimes the limitation by which we can observe or articulate. Do you remember the first time you learned a new term or phrase for something you’d thought of, but didn’t know how to express it? Asking questions, in my view, is an extension of this. If we cannot ask it, how can we answer it? If we ask an inaccurate or inconsequential question, how can we expect a useful answer?