“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” – Richard Feynman

I love questions. The more I learn, the more I realise how powerful asking questions is, both in my personal and professional life. They help to reframe problems, diffuse tense situations, deepen relationships, discover underlying issues, challenge assumptions and so much more.

However, I’ve learnt that asking good questions is just half the trick – just as important is remaining curious, open and truly present to what happens next and actively listening to the response as a result. It takes practice and is an elusive state to maintain.

On the question front, I’ve found myself collecting lists of questions over the year – picking up a variety that suit different circumstances and goals. In real life I avoid following a script… but they still act as useful references and prompts. So, here’s my ‘Ultimate’ but unfinished list – Come back, as I’ll continue to refine and improve it.

Btw – I’m partly publishing this list as a supporting resource for the Learning Agility course I’ll be running in Feb 2020 – find out more about it by clicking here

In the meantime, let me ask you a question. What questions would you have included on this list? 

QUESTIONS WE SHOULD ASK ALL THE TIME

What we should be asking as habit.

Why? 
Because it digs deeper. You might know that the 5 whys are a simple root-cause analysis technique but, just as importantly, asking it more helps re-engage with the curiosity we’ve sadly shed since our childhood. 
Am I/ are you ok? 
In our isolated, alienated world there are too many people going it alone. I love the campaign to encourage more such questions. 
What’s the single most important thing that I/we can do next?                                                      
Because we too often spend our lives reacting. Ideally ‘important’ inherently means that its aligned with your values and goals. 

QUESTIONS TO LEARN FROM ANYONE

From strangers to team members and even that family member that annoys you…

What do you think? 
Because other perspectives are valuable, even if just to challenge our own unconscious bias. Asking these questions also helps show a level of respect required to connect and collaborate with people. 

Be sure to follow these ups with more ‘whys‘! And remember that point about remaining ‘present and open’.

What’s your experience been? 
What do you think caused that? 
How do you feel about that?                                                                                           

QUESTIONS (TO YOURSELF) TO LEARN AND ADOPT NEW IDEAS

Use these questions to pick up, apply and adapt concepts, fast.

How would I explain this to an 8-year old? 
Using the Feynman Technique. This exposes gaps in your understanding and areas for further questions/ investigation.
How does that relate to what I already know? 
Because learning is about connection and tying things to your prior conceptual frameworks will make it stick.
How can I use this approach or concept in other situations? 
In many ways, intelligence is simply taking concepts and applying them in new contexts.
What are examples of this idea in practice? 
Deepens your understanding.
How could I put a twist on this idea, or combine it with my existing expertise, to create something new? 
The beginnings of creativity – uniquely combining existing ideas, industries or domains. This technique has been the backbone of my career.
How could I test out and/or implement this idea today? 
Use it or lose it.

QUESTIONS TO LEARN FROM EXPERTS AND GEEKS

Know a geek or subject matter expert? Try these.

Can you explain that to me again, slowly? 
Have no shame when it comes to learning.
What are some of your most-used concepts, models, resources or frameworks? 
Because I actively collect mental models.
What’s the most important thing that you do differently from someone who has less experience than you?
Drawing out lessons from experience.
Can you tell me about a time when a project went really well? 
Both these questions are aiming to extract stories and hints at tacit knowledge.
Can you tell me about a time when a project went really badly? 

QUESTIONS (TO YOURSELF) TO LEARN AT WORK

It’s where you’ll spend much of your time – you might as well learn while you earn.

Is this similar to anything I’ve done before and how can I improve this time? 
Reflect on your own past experiences and fails.
Who should I be asking advice from before I try this?
Learn from other people’s experiences and fails.
Who is doing aspects of my job better than I am and how can I learn from them? 
Stop getting jealous, ask how they’re doing it.
What experience and skills do my team members have that I don’t and how can I observe/ learn from them?
The biggest wasted development opportunity is you not tapping into the strength and skills of your team.
Which team members frustrate me because they work/ think differently to me, and how can I use that to challenge my assumptions?
Tapping into the power of diversity can be frustrating but will increase innovation and learning.

QUESTIONS TO LEARN FROM FEEDBACK

Don’t let it hit you – actively seek specific, timely and actionable feedback with these sort of questions.

How might I support you more effectively?
Frame it with a positive intention. 
What’s one thing that you think I should do differently in that sort of situation? 
Look for specific and actionable feedback.      
What’s something I could have done better just now?
Timely feedback is better.

QUESTIONS (TO YOURSELF) TO LEARN MORE FROM A COURSE OR EVENT

Embed formal training.

What’s in it for me? 
Yes, WIIFM! Getting in touch with this upfront will help your engagement and prime your attention.
What’s a real, current challenge that I want help with from my learnings here? 
Contextualise and look for application.
Who else is part of this and how can I make meaningful connections with them?  
Come for the course, leave with the networking. 
What are the main concepts and how can I make use of them in my context? 
Identifying the mental models
What skills do I want to practice from this session and how will I do it safely with feedback? 
Identifying relevant skills for deliberate practice
Who should I tell about my learnings from this session and when will I do it?
Priming yourself to relate the learning will increase engagement. 
What am I going to do differently in the next 48 hours as a result of this training?  
Hold yourself to account. 

QUESTIONS (TO YOURSELF) FOR QUICK DAILY REFLECTION

Set yourself up for success tomorrow.

What did I learn today and what will I do differently tomorrow as a result?
Continuous improvement.
What did I do well today and how can I embed that into a habit or process? 
Embed positive habits.
How can I set myself up with better support and resources to do better tomorrow? 
Shifting the environment.           

QUESTIONS (TO YOURSELF) FOR DEEP REFLECTION

Here’s a guided reflective process I use. The shorthand is John Driscol’s ‘What/ So What/ What’s Next’ – but I’ve expanded it below in the diagram and table.

What actually happened/ what are the facts? 
Identify bias to try to be objective.
What will be valuable to focus on? 
Filter, choosing areas of relevance.
What’s the essence of the lesson or argument?
Analyse, by organising and chunking.
What are my takeaways? 
Abstract, develop theories, frameworks and mental models.
What will I do about it?
Plan, to implement. 

Learning Agility Course

Find out more about the Learning Agility Crash Course here.