Appreciating the Questions

Another day, another #reverb10 post. Today’s prompt prompts us to appreciate and consider, “What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?”

Sitting through an Intro to Statistics workshop this evening, trying to frantically absorb all the basics I’ll need for Statistics I next quarter, I realized my answer to this question:

It’s about the questions, not the answers.

This, of course, is a ginormous shift from what we’re trained to do in school. Throughout our standard K-12 education, we are taught that it’s the answers that matter. Sure, by high school the teacher wanted to see the “work” associated with getting an answer, but as long as the answer you circled or the number you scribbled onto the blank was accurate, it was good enough for at least partial credit.

As an undergrad, many of my professors used the Socratic method – that is, they asked questions of questions of questions and rarely gave us a straight answer. Rather, we came to understand the problem at hand in a whole new detail. It meant that our exams weren’t simple multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank affairs. Instead, we wrote long (loooooong) papers, sometimes due at the same time for solid weeks of caffeine, writing and CSPAN (then, my background-noise-of-choice). One hellacious week my third year, I wrote over 60 pages worth of double-spaced exams. Thank goodness it wasn’t all in blue books.

It suited me, and I flourished. My mom says I was always asking questions as a kid.

But in the real world, so much of the Socratic method fell by the wayside. Especially in my first job out of college, no one cared about method, reason or strategy. Instead, we were very focused on the end result, even if that meant fudging the methods a bit. The people who set our priorities had a concrete idea of what they wanted to see, and they really didn’t care how we got there.

The curiosity was largely beaten out of me. Sure, I still popped off with questions in meetings, but nobody cared.

In my next/current job, that largely changed. Asking questions was no longer verboten; in fact, in a small startup, it was encouraged.

But really, in the past year, working with social media for my job and starting graduate school, I’ve come back to the realization that the questions do indeed matter, sometimes more than the answers. In social media, there are no answers, no right or wrong, no real bottom line magic ROI metric that clinches your case. We’re all still learning, and the technology and communities are evolving much faster than many of us can keep up.

And while that can be frustrating, really, it’s exhilarating. Such a lack of answers has lead to a whole fleet of social media networking and best practices groups. One of my favorites met this morning: the Social Media Breakfast of Chicago group is fantastic because it breaks participants into small roundtables, where we all raise questions, challenge assumptions, and walk away with stacks of business cards, twitter handles and new ideas.

School has really reinforced it, too, thanks in part to my excellent Marketing Management professor who refused to just give us answers and formulas. Instead, he urged us to think through the problem and determine what was actually being asked rather than immediately plugging and chugging through numbers. It reminds me of what my dad used to do when I came to him for homework help. It annoyed me as a teenager, but now I realize how useful it is.

Tonight, as class ended and we stared at the professor like deer in headlights (“Though the car hasn’t hit us yet,” a classmate quipped), he urged us to stop and think about what was being asked.

And I realized that I finally really appreciate the questions. I promise to keep asking.

This post is part of #Reverb10, a month-long project to reflect on the year nearly gone. Read all my #Reverb10 posts, or learn more.

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5 responses to “Appreciating the Questions

  1. Asking questions is so very crucial to our growth and ultimately our happiness. Thanks for this post!

  2. Asking questions indicates that you do not know. Admitting that you do not know is the first step on the path to true wisdom. Or so my grandfather told me.

    Good for you and good read.

  3. Pingback: 2011: Ready, Set, GO! | The Adventures of Elginista

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