Have you ever wondered what the ultimate learning ability is? Is it memorisation? Analysis? Deduction?
Many argue that it's the ability to ask questions. As Corley and Rauscher (1) put it: Asking good questions is central to learning and sometimes can be more important than getting the answers.
In this article:
It seems that for children, questioning comes naturally. They want to find the causes behind everything they experience. So, what happens between childhood filled with curiosity and adulthood where asking questions feels like admitting we're incompetent?
Questioning and Curiosity in Childhood
Did you know that children ask around 40,000 questions between the ages of two and five? 40,000!! And it is not just to annoy their parents (even though it sometimes looks like it's their goal). No. They actually want to learn why and get to the bottom of things (2).
It all begins even before children can speak. In the earliest days, they:
- Look closely at an object or person
- Reach for an object or person
- Point to something
- Touch something
- Look at their parent with a questioning facial expression.
These are all questions.
And before they know it, parents find themselves googling information about how much petrol buses need, how we can replace it with solar energy, what solar energy is, why the grass is green, why the Moon is following us, and how to explain it to a three-year-old. So yes, children are naturally curious.
But what is curiosity?
There is no universal definition. However, it can be described as finding answers to questions to acquire new information, explore, and see. And the more curious the child, the more likely they are to perform better in school (3). And this performance can continue in adulthood.
Questioning and Curiosity in Business
Business agility, innovation, and transformation depend on pre-existing knowledge (mechanical facts and processes), as well as expertise, the understanding of how and why things work the way they do, and how we can influence change (4).
And how can we keep learning and developing this expertise? Through questioning, curiosity, or the creative conflict and resolution arising from diverse perspectives and expertise. To promote a learning culture in a company, people should be encouraged to ask questions, look for answers and share ideas.
Try these positive verbal reinforcements:
- This sounds interesting! Where did you get the idea?
- Interesting. I didn't think of that. How would you implement it?
- Thank you for sharing that insight. Would you mind telling me more?
You can encourage questioning and curiosity even if you disagree with certain suggestions.
- I don't see how that could work, but I appreciate your suggestion. Let's talk about it some more.
- Interesting idea, but I don't see how it could contribute to our situation. Would you like to brainstorm a bit more and develop another proposal?
In a survey conducted with more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, only about 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs regularly. In addition, about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work (5). And if asking questions and curiosity are the way to learn and grow, these numbers have to change. Curious people are driven to solve problems of all types. With a company full of diverse ideas, it's easier to face challenges and pivot quicker.
So, if questioning is vital for learning in adulthood as well as in childhood, why do we stop asking questions?
Why Do We Stop Asking Questions?
The first thought that comes to mind is - well, we're adults. We don't have to ask so many questions to learn what a dog is or how many continents there are. And that's true - our knowledge is vast compared to that of a preschool child. But is it complete? Is it deep enough? Extensive enough? Theoretically, the capacity of our memory could be unlimited. So when do we decide to stop filling it with new information?
In his wonderful book about the importance and different types of questions, Berger (6) explains why we stop asking questions.
For starters, to question, we need to think, and thinking requires some mental workload. So, what does our brain do? It tries to find ways to reduce this workload. One way to reduce the workload is to avoid questioning and accept everything around us and operate in autopilot mode.
Secondly, to ask questions, we need to accept our ignorance. This means that others will also become aware that we actually don't know something. And our society often punishes ignorance by labelling the ignorant as idiots.
Finally, to question, we need to remain curious. And this is where most school systems fail children. The teacher is seen as an authority figure, and children are taught to be afraid to question authority.
And this is how we come from a whirlpool of questions in childhood to adults who find questioning exhausting.
Luckily, there are numerous techniques to encourage questioning and nurture curious minds. Stay tuned for more.
Asking questions is one of the most important lifelong learning skills a student can acquire in the course of their education. But, unfortunately, we lose this ability bit by bit as we grow up.
If we want to have curious, flexible, and creative adults, we must focus on encouraging children's questioning.
Suggested reading on the topic:
(1) Corley, M.A., Rauscher, W. C. (2013). Deeper Learning through Questioning. TEAL Center Fact Sheet (12).
(2) Society for Research in Child Development. (2009, November 13). When preschoolers ask questions, they want explanations. ScienceDaily.
(3) Shah, P.E., Weeks, H.M., Richards, B. et al. (2018). Early childhood curiosity and kindergarten reading and math academic achievement. Pediatr Res 84, 380–386. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-018-0039-3
(4) von Maydell, C. (March 29, 2021). Curiosity is a Competitive Advantage in Business. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/curiosity-competitive-advantage-business-catarina-von-maydell/
(5) Gino, F. (September - October 2018). The Business Case for Curiosity. Harward Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/09/the-business-case-for-curiosity
(6) Berger, W. (2014). A more Beautiful Question: A power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York/London/New Delhi/Sydney: Bloomsbury.