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Asking better questions will elicit better answers

I believe Thailand could change for the better dramatically if we learned how to ask better questions. In that spirit, I'd like to begin today by asking three questions and offering some possible answers:

1. What does "asking better questions" mean?

2. Why do we need to ask better questions?

3. How do we ask better questions?

Let's look at each of these in order, starting with what does "asking better questions" mean? "Asking better questions" simply means that the quality of the questions you ask yourself or ask others will yield better-quality answers.

When we ask a question, it triggers our brain or others' brains to think. If you ask a better question, your brain thinks better. When your brain thinks better, you will get a better answer.

Let's look at some examples of better questions that changed the world:

The first one came from Sir Isaac Newton. "If the apple falls, does the moon also fall?" What did this question do? It led to the discovery of gravity, mechanics and steam engines. These discoveries in turn triggered the first Industrial Revolution.

The second one came from Albert Einstein. "What would happen if I rode a beam of light?" This question led to the theory of special and general relativity. These theories completely changed the way we view space and time. The resulting developments in quantum mechanics have led to a lot of advanced technologies.

The third question, and one more familiar to most of us today, was "How can we build the best search engine in the world?" The people who asked it were the founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

The fourth question was asked by Steve Jobs. "How can we make a great phone that we fall in love with?"

Now let me ask you something: "What's a question that makes $17.93 billion a year?" You can stop here and write down your answer. Then, compare your answer with mine at the end of this column.

Now I think we have some pretty good ideas about what asking better questions means. I have three good-quality questions that I gain a lot from:

a) What is the question that has changed my life?

b) What is the question that I've learned the most from?

c) What's my favourite question?

My answer to a) is, "What would my father do if he were in my shoes?"

I adapted this question from the one that Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US president, asked himself: "What would Lincoln do if he were in my shoes?" The story is contained in the world-famous motivational book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

My answer to question b) is "What do you mean by that?" When I ask this question it helps me to learn more from other people. Because most human beings are not good at speaking effectively, it helps me to avoid jumping to conclusions and misunderstanding what I am hearing.

My answer to question c) is "Who are your role models and why?" The answer can tell me a lot about a person's values and beliefs in a short time.

What are your answers to the above three questions?

Now let's move on to 2. Why do we need to ask better questions?

A recent World Economic Forum report looked at what the employment landscape will look like in 2020 after talking to chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers. From the top 10 skills that will be needed in 2020, the top two are complex problem-solving and critical thinking. Both of these skills are required for asking better questions.

Why? In A More Beautiful Question, author Warren Berger offered an anecdote about Albert Einstein: "If he had an hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he'd spend the first 55 minutes making sure he was answering the right question."

David Sotir from University of Technology Sydney put it this way in an interview on YouTube: "Critical thinking is all about asking questions, then analysing and making evaluations or judgements based on the information presented."

Hence, it's obvious that asking better questions is very important for all of us.

Now we come to the last question. 3. How do we ask better questions? I suggest:

Research: Look for good questions and keep a stock of them.

Ask more: Ask instead of tell. Practise asking everyone on every occasion.

Try to ask open-ended questions: what, why, when, how, who, where, what if?

Ask people with great minds, "What are your three good-quality questions?"

Reflect: Each day review yourself. What questions did I learn or ask today? How can I improve my ability to ask?

I believe that if we apply what we learn today, we will all be better thinkers.

(Note: The answer to the question "What's a question that makes $17.93 billion a year?" is "What's on Your Mind?" in your Facebook Status Update box.)

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at