How to Be Successful: Ask Questions

How were some of the biggest companies in the world created? Amazon? AirBnBPolaroid? People asked a simple question – along the lines of “why does this have to be this way, and what if it were different?” According to Warren Berger, in our age of technology – where every new answer comes quicker and easier than the last, “Questions are the new answers.” The Questionist spoke at Champlain College last week on why questions are important, who asks the best questions, and how to ask questions better.

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Great companies – especially great innovative and technological companies, are successful because they ask questions. In order to create a successful business, you must question, and you also must keep asking these questions, or someone else will. Kodak is a perfect example of this – rather than asking the questions that would have lead the company to digital photography, they kept doing things the same way because they followed the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” model that is a sure-fire way to run a business into the ground nowadays. But how do you ask a good question? The steps to asking a better question include:

  1. Step Back – always separate yourself from your company or what you’re questioning, trying to take yourself out of a process to be able to question it.
  2. Be on the lookout for mysteries & inconsistencies – something that’s part of a process which nobody can really explain the significance – there really may be no other reason for keeping it, other than tradition.
  3. Embrace the power of “how might we?” – how you ask the question is just as important as the question itself.
  4. Ask Why? What if? How? – in that order, ask why we’re doing this, what if we did this differently, and how would we do that?
  5. Don’t abuse questioning – as in, don’t be a jerk by asking questions just to convey your preferences, blame others, or negate someone else’s observation or question.
  6. Brainstorm questions – as a team, get everyone together and just brainstorm, don’t try to find the answers, just ask good questions.

But it expands past a ‘business model’ approach into what we’re doing as digital marketers – not only in data management and analysis, but as it relates to our jobs and careers. As far as how the questionist related to me and my future and ever-so-approaching graduation, I took away the following:

  1. The way you ask a question is very important – i.e. the phrasing, tone, and exact wordage can really impact how someone responds to a question.
  2. Never stop asking questions – as an individual and as a company. I think it’s really easy to get into a routine at work, but by not asking questions and continually improving the process, that company (or you!) can’t succeed in the long term.
  3. If you don’t question your business approach, someone else will – If you’re not questioning how to improve your business, someone else will be, and they’ll find a better approach. Especially as a digital marketer, if you don’t question how you do your job, there is probably someone out there better at doing it than you.
  4. Mission Questions > Mission Statements – I love this because by working a question into a typical “mission statement,” asking questions is built into the fundamental way a company runs, making the employees more likely to question and improve the business. And for you, thinking about who you are and what you do in terms of questions may go a long way in succeeding as a marketer.

So the obvious moral of the story? Ask questions! I used to resent my father for telling my teachers “call on my kid” every parent-teacher conference he got, but in reality it probably was a good idea to get me asking and answering questions as a kid. From now own though, asking questions is my responsibility – and I recommend it be yours as well!

Check out Warren Berger’s Twitter (@glimmerguy) / Facebook / Google+ to connect with him, and his book A More Beautiful Question to delve way deeper into all of this.

Now I’m going to ask you a question… what are your thoughts? Let me know!

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