The last 24 hours have presented me with more than a couple of chances to take a hard look in the mirror. But this morning’s opportunity, which came courtesy of the incomparable Seth Godin, gave me the greatest cause to pause.
“I’m often stunned by the lack of questions that adults are prepared to ask…” is how he opens his December 27th blog. “When you see kids go on a field trip, the questions pour out of them.”
It’s so true. Kids want to know everything. Yes, some want to show off, others want attention, but for the most part, kids just want to know why and how, and they will keep asking until it makes sense to them (I know this because I raised two very curious people).
Adults, on the other hand, are usually afraid to look ignorant or foolish. And I’m hardly an exception to that rule. It takes great effort for me to say, “Pretend that I know nothing about this subject and explain it to me in a way that I don’t make any false assumptions.” As a writer, often of technical subjects, this is the only way I can make sure that all the acronyms and shorthand phrases aren’t being used in a different way by a different technology.
Yet there are other times where my ego takes over and I sound like a total fool.
Yes, that’s right (and this is directed at my own ego): when my ego takes over, I inevitably sound like a fool. I don’t ask questions or seek clarity about things that I don’t really understand. I say things that are off topic or that try to shift the focus back to me.
So, after reading Seth Godin’s blog this morning, I realized (or maybe remembered) that asking questions is the first step in learning and growing. Being genuinely interested in the answers is the second step. And in both cases, my ego is the biggest obstacle. When my need to appear smart takes over, I rarely look as smart as I would like.
The result of all this pondering is that I think that I might rephrase that famous quote from Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain to say something more along the lines of “Better to ask a question and appear a fool, than to assume to know and remove all doubt.”