Million dollar questions

Last Updated 28 November 2012, 14:10 IST

Have you ever observed tiny kids interacting with parents at home? Almost a third of their conversation constitute questions about the machinations of the life and the world around them. They are very curious to know the ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘when’, ‘what’ about everything that their senses make them experience.

Now observe a teenager, someone who has had enough exposure to the world out there to make him grasp things as they are. The teenager barely asks any questions and his or her statements are often brief, hesitant remarks. Even at home, they will mumble the questions, if at all they have any. How does the scenario change so drastically over a few years? For long, educationists the world over have pondered over the importance of asking the right questions.

BaharOzocak, a Turkish trainer and marketing consultant says that people start to ask fewer questions as they learn more and more about a specific subject. That is why a typical four-year-old asks 65 questions a day, while a typical 44-year-old adult asks only around six questions a day, many of which are not  thought provoking at all.
Only a curious mind asks questions. Then, why does our curiosity dry with age?
In an era where soft skills score higher than university marks in getting and retaining jobs as well as in climbing the corporate ladder, students must be trained to ask questions, the right ones, and plenty of them.

The eerie silence that follows a presentation or lecture after the presenter says “Any questions?” is proof that people in general and students in particular, hesitate to ask questions, especially in the company of others.

Why don’t people ask questions

nAccepting what is being told is easier than questioning, which involves debate
nThey are wary that they may invite the wrath of the presenter if they ask questions
nTheir attention levels are poor; they grasp things at their own pace and hence the mind cannot process facts and data fast enough to produce questions
nAt times, the question needs to be substantiated with adequate reason, which they don’t haven Asking questions require confidence to stand up or get noticed in a crowd, which many lack

Learning through questioning

Learning is a process that happens better with a curious mind. Only assimilating what is being told is not learning. Students must be encouraged to ask more questions. A common barrier is that often adults snub the questions that they themselves cannot answer. This snubbing at home, at school, amongst friends results in a tendency to gulp down any question that may have arisen in a child’s mind. Adults fear that if they answer one question, it is always followed by a subsequent one.  It is necessary that students ask questions actively and find answers, with the help of parents, teachers and seniors, which will be an interesting learning experience for all those involved in this process. Asking questions helps in many ways It deepens the grasping ability of students and the mind processes fastern Asking the right questions enhances curiosity which in turn leads to better learningnQuestioning the status-quo leads to doing common things better, faster and in a different manner. This is how innovation happens.

Questions clear confusion and ambiguity. A clearer mind then has more space for knowledge.The right questions help in prioritising things, letting first things first. This helps in gaining a better perspective of the situation at hand.Students who ask questions about their own self get a clear idea of their likes, dislikes, career choices, etc. They can make informed decisions when they have asked the right questions to themselves and weed out unwanted paths.

Evelyn Ruslie, in a New York Times article, quotes one of his friends and early Facebook employees talking about its founder Mark Zuckerberg, saying: “He has a higher ask-to-talk ratio than anyone I know.” Not surprisingly, entrepreneurs swear by the power of asking the right questions as a key element of study before and after entering business. Questioning implies inquiry, just like how the lawyer or doctor does before arriving at a conclusion. The same principle must be applied to every aspect of our lives to make it more meaningful.

However, not everyone is chalked out to question at all times. It requires an alert mind, a genuine sense of curiosity, to observe beyond the obvious and the urge to find out more. Students need to be trained and encouraged to ask questions in class from an early stage. From an early start of the ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘who’ or ‘when’, etc. they must gradually move on to deeper questions that require analysis of the situation or data. As they approach college, they must be adept at looking at a given scenario with peculiar questions like, ‘What if….,’ ‘If not, what else…,’ etc. that can throw up alternative answers.

In a recent interview to a leading publication, Schauna Chauhan, CEO of Parle Agro says that the best advice she ever got was to always question everything. She goes on to say that the easy way out in any situation is to accept things as they are. To question others takes courage; to question yourself takes honesty. To question is to fight convention, to question is to invite change, to question is to understand. But it will all help you to find new answers, to open new possibilities.

This may perhaps be the crux of the human mind’s unique trait of inquiry. When one accepts things as they are, progress stops. No discovery has ever been possible by a question-less mind. It is only humans who can question what lies before them and reason. We must make full use of this faculty gifted to us. You never know, which question will be the million dollar one, literally!

(The writer is Training and Placement Officer, Bharatesh Global Business School, Belgaum.)

(Published 28 November 2012, 14:09 IST)

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