To us students, finding the right answer is everything; after all, whether it is getting the 4.0 GPA , or achieving a high score on standardized tests, or making it through a job interview, we can’t get anywhere without first being able to find what the right answer is, right?
To that end, we all have been trained from an early age to problem-solve, where we are each given a list of questions and then asked to solve them. By laboriously going through the steps of analyzing the questions, then plugging in the formula or regurgitating the information we’ve memorized, we arrive at the right answer. And after years of such efforts, most of us have indeed become very good problem solvers – just look around my fourth-year medical science classes; here, almost everyone has been honed into a professional test-killer capable of analyzing a test problem and arrive at the solution in seconds.
Then why, why despite this abundance of problem-solving brain power and easy access to information, do the real-world problems such as poverty, unemployment, social inequity, and environmental pollution still persist?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s not because we’re bad problem-solvers, but because we’re not asking the right questions. Maybe we can’t find the right answer not because our logic or information is flawed, but because we were not asking the right questions in the first place.
To go from the unknown to known, we must ask questions, for only through asking these questions can we gather information and form a perception of what our world is like. Ever wondered why children can learn so quickly? Just look at the how often the ask questions – questions about themselves, about the world, or just the ever-present “why” in general. Our curiosity finds expression through our questions, and it is through our questions we learn and turn the unknown into known. However, despite how important asking questions is a part of learning, the education system have done little to teach us to ask the right questions – after all, who needs to learn how to ask the right questions when a list of questions has already been supplied on the standardized exams?
But there is no question list in the real world, and the complex struggles that we face not only requires one to answer questions, but to be able to ask the right questions in the first place.
At the end of the day, before we can talking about problem-solving, we must first find the questions to problem-solve for. Otherwise it would be akin to putting the cart before the horse. So how can we learn to ask good questions?
Be curious. Even a “bad” question is better than no questions at all, and rather than asking yourself “what have I learned today?”, ask yourself “what questions have I asked today?”
Beware how you frame the questions. For instance, instead of asking “why am I procrastinating again?”, ask yourself “how can I get this assignment done as efficiently as possible?”
But lastly, simply being aware how important it is to ask good questions – observe how someone can quickly gather information from a conversation whereas other may spin their wheels for hours in a conversation without getting much out of it.