Most questions are good. Aren’t they?

Have you ever been in one of those meetings where people don’t really like questions being asked? Or what about those scenarios where some items simply aren’t up for discussion?

Every now and then you run into them – a client who doesn’t want to be challenged, a planner who doesn’t like you to interrogate a creative brief, a suit who doesn’t like you asking why the creative work needs to be amended as requested, a creative who doesn’t want to answer why they’ve done something a certain way.

Well, I think there’s a lot to like about questions, and I’m not the only one. Voltaire (1694 – 1778), the French author and philosopher, said this: ‘Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers’. So why my love of questions? Well, I have a few reasons.

Firstly, questions help to clearly define the objectives. They put things into context and force people to focus on what the actual problem is. It’s amazing how many times people can get caught up trying to devise a solution that won’t solve the real problem that’s at hand. And, to put it simply, it’s a waste of effort (and money) when people do this – they’re mistaking momentum for progress. It’s no good doing something if it’s not the right thing to be doing.

Secondly, asking questions helps identify if there are mixed agendas and motives on the table. When things aren’t all pulling in the same direction, you’re not going to achieve as much because there are different factions at work.

Another reason is that it’s a very rare occasion where solutions are found without asking questions. Even when things are discovered by serendipity (like penicillin), it’s because questions are being asked.

I once worked for a Creative Director who said that questions should never be seen as a sign of weakness or lack of knowledge. Instead, they show that you’re eager to learn and want a more thorough understanding of a subject.

In my experience, when people don’t like questions being asked it’s usually because: 1) they don’t know the subject well enough to answer them; or 2) they’re trying to cover up something they know defies logic or is fundamentally flawed.

Sure, there are times when people ask questions just for the sake of saying something in a meeting. And there are times when people ask questions to try and develop problems where there are none. But if you’re being deterred from asking valid questions, well, surely questions need to be asked. Don’t they?

Look at Columbo. He just loved questions…

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