Ho to ask questions to learn almost anything in life

Mon Sep 07 2020 - by Kirill Zubovsky

Asking questions is a life skill that can be learned and improved at any point in life, whether you are 5 or 55 years old. Very often, starting as early as in preschool, we are taught to ask questions wrong! How so, and what is the better way to ask questions then?

TLDR: If you don't have time to read, Kirill explains the process in this Sudden Schools video.

When you have a question, the goal should not be to get an immediate dopamine injection by getting the answer, but to learn enough about your question to derive the answer yourself.

You know how they say -- "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime," -- this is no different.

If you asked a question and I gave you an answer, that only satisfies your curiosity in the moment, but it does not teach you how to find the answer. If that's so, then how are you going to find the answer to your next question?

Here is a better method. When you are facing a problem, and you want to ask someone to help you, follow this process:

  1. Write a problem down, and explain what the problem is to yourself, then write it as if you are explaining it to someone else. Furthermore, explain what you think the solution could be. As you do this, you will see yourself describing your problem in a much deeper way than a single question. Not only will you gain a fuller understanding of what you are asking, you just might find the answer in this phase of the process.

  2. If the answer has not occurred to you yet, try to find the solution yourself, experiment, try different hypothetical answers, improvise and use your imagination. At this point, you are not trying to be right, you are just trying to find all the possible ways to find your answer. Document the steps that you took to solve the problem. If you looked up information elsewhere, write down what you tried to search for and where you looked. Document if you found what you were looking for, and if not, why not. In this step you will expand your solution space by learning more about the problem, and you will probably find the answer.

  3. Lastly, if you are still struggling, now might be a good time to finally ask someone a question. Figure out who is the most knowledgable person that might know the answer, take all your research from step 1 and 2, and ask them.

Asking someone a question without doing any prior work is lazy, it just means you want to put the burden of doing the work on the person that you are asking this from. Smart people don't generally like to help lazy people. On the other hand, if you put in the maximum effort in trying to find the answer, you will show that you did what you could, and came to this person for a reason. You would be a lot more likely to get help, leaving the person feeling good about helping you. It would be a win-win.

If you have other suggestions on how to ask good questions, feel free to email me kirill@suddenschools.org. Happy to hear from you!

Founder of Sudden Schools