Go ahead, ask the dumb questions

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in Management Training

Imagine the mistakes we could avoid if we would just admit what we didn’t know—or ask the necessary questions to understand it.

Turn the following two tips into resolutions, suggests business management author Tom Peters:

1. Become the Questioner in Chief. Vow to lead the league in asking dumb questions. Ask questions until you understand something well enough to explain it to someone else. And evaluate others in their skill and persistence in doing the same.

“Above all,” he says, “sweat the details. The weird, incomprehensible little thing that just doesn’t make sense—probe until you find out what it means.”

 “If I’m any good at this, I owe it all to my first boss, Allen Puckett at McKinsey & Co,” Peters continues. Peters says he watched his boss ask incredibly dumb questions of CEOs who were paying him a ton of money for his consulting fees, “only to find out that Mr. $50 Million CEO was clueless or misinformed.”

2. Reward DNK (Do Not Know). Your brightest employees may be thinking, “The boss thinks I’m supposed to know the answer to that,” which means they’ll be loath to admit they don’t.

“The fact is we should not only readily, but gleefully admit when we do not know something,” says Peters. “Perhaps start meetings by asking, ‘What are our DNKs here?’ And end the meeting the same way.”

That doesn’t mean rewarding I-didn’t-bother-to forms of laziness. A boss must be sure DNKs aren’t taken too far.

But, says Peters, “you might make a very serious game out of identifying the DNKs regarding any analysis or proposed action. Frankly, a good inventory of DNKs might be far more important to success than an inventory of DKs, or Do Knows.”

— Adapted from The Little Big Things, Tom Peters.

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