When I was a little kid, my dad took me to our weekend house. As we drove, I was asking questions all the time. When he answered, I would go: Why? He would answer, and again I would go: Why? After two hours of my Q & A, dad was exhausted. He nearly jumped out of the car window. He couldn’t take it anymore.
No matter the fact that I annoyed the hell out of my parents, they always encouraged me to ask questions. So anytime I meet someone, I would bug them with my questions. Spoiler alert. Quite a few people got annoyed :)
Then in kindergarten and primary school, teachers somehow managed to suppress my curiosity. I never stopped asking questions, but I sure as hell was more careful and afraid when to expose my self.
In high school, only a few teachers encouraged questions. I’ll never forget one of the physics lectures in my first year. I went to the teacher.
Alright, you’re not getting questions from me anymore. I did OK in physics, but I honestly didn’t understand most of it. So I figured if I ever wanted to understand physics, I should go study physics at Uni. OK, the second motivation was I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. So I picked the broadest field.
At university, it became completely acceptable to question every line that the professor wrote on the blackboard. And we found mistakes. Quite a few. Satisfaction for students and for the professor. Our questions were a clear indication that we were paying attention. But in the first year, I never publicly corrected the professors. That was the domain of more vocal collages. I became more comfortable with asking questions later on when classes got smaller.
At Uni, I was annoyed by the collages who always asked questions. I thought that they were interrupting the lecture. But in fact, they were the only ones smart enough to admit that they didn’t understand everything. I was fooling my self. I didn’t understand most of the stuff.
In May 2019 I went for a conference and met one of my vocal collages :) So when the lectures started he went:
Why is that?
Suddenly a part of me woke up. I eagerly helped in grilling the lecturers until the rest of the conference. Some speakers were pretty exhausted after our Q&A
Me: Wait. Stop. I don’t understand this. Can you explain it? Speaker: (Confused look.) This is because…
The fact is no one understands everything. Earlier, you get that the better. Sure, you might sound stupid. But most people will politely explain themselves again. Benefit? You (hopefully) understand the subject way better now.
So find the courage and allow yourself to be the stupid person.
My modus operandi those days: In a small audience, I would speak out loudly. In a bigger crowd. I would try to talk to the speaker later in private.
When I work with people, I have one rule. Never, ever tell me: It’s so because I said so. Or there is no way. Without providing an argument. There’s always a way. The question is just what’s the price. The crowd and conventional wisdom usually go in one direction. I try to see what’s in the other direction. Sometimes it’s interesting sometimes it’s scary.
After 18 years of school, my mindset is back to: Ask, think, ask. I hope I never stop asking. Neither should you. So ask questions even if it makes you look stupid. Fail and learn. Don’t accept what others are selling. Ask yourself: Is there a better way? Don’t be a sheep and challenge the status quo.