It starts at a young age for everyone. Children begin asking the universal question: Why? They have a huge desire to learn more in order to understand more. Their need to ask questions overrides any consequences they might experience by asking “why” too many times. As kids age, they become more self-conscious and end up suppressing their curiosity due to the fear of being ridiculed or looked down upon because they ask too many questions. Then things get worse, they become adults.

Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most prolific inventors of the 20th Century. Even though his formal education was nothing to speak of, his level of curiosity and continually asking the question “why?” resulted in him receiving more than 1,000 patents for some of his inventions. Edison is probably best known for being the founder of General Electric, the inventor of the light bulb, phonograph, and motion pictures, just to name a few. But even with all of the credit for his inventions, as numerous as they were, Edison had an insatiable appetite for curiosity. In other words, he constantly asked the question “why?”

In order to grow your business, you need to find some way of incorporating curiosity and instilling the question “why?” into your corporate culture.

Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist at the Harvard Business School, told a story about a company she had visited in the past. As she was talking about the plans and goals of the company, she began questioning the company employees along the lines of “What if you did this?” or “How might we do that?” She went on to say, “They came up with all sorts of things, which were discussed and evaluated. As a concrete sign that questioning was supported and rewarded, the best questions were displayed on banners hung on the walls. Some of the questions led employees to suggest ideas for how to work more effectively.”

In another situation, Gino elaborated on a study where people were asked to read one of two possible sets of information relating to company goals, roles, and how people work together. One set of information was labeled as “Grow,” the other set was entitled “Go Back.” Sure enough, just by labeling the group as “Go Back,” they took it upon themselves to revisit, be more creative, and ask more questions than the other group. It is interesting to note that mere wording in a study can influence outcomes for critical issues being faced by companies, but that appears to be the exact situation.

This small example should show company leaders there are many ways to solve problems, by showing staff and teaching them how to ask good questions could be a game changer for many organizations.

Successful business owners have known for a long time that a better answer is achieved by creating a better question. Hal Gregersen wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review which addressed the issue of concentrating on the development of a better question in order to come up with an even better answer.

His approach is to identify a meaningful problem, then select a small group to address it. Take a short amount of time to define the problem at a very high level, so as to not bind their thought processes. Be specific, only questions are allowed at this point. Give the team four minutes to generate at least fifteen questions. When the time is up, review all of the questions that were asked, looking specifically for the ones that challenge the assumptions and generate new dimensions or perspectives for solving the defined problem. Gregersen feels, “If you commit to actively pursuing at least one of these, chances are, you’ll break open a new pathway to unexpected solutions.”

Bob Langer, in another article for the Harvard Business Review, suggests that leaders in every organization should not only teach their staff to be curious, they should be shown how to “help people make the transition from giving good answers to asking good questions.” Langer is bold enough to tell others by increasing their curiosity and asking more questions, they could change the world.

Another way to help transition your company might be yet another suggestion by Langer. Establish “Why?” days, where simply put by Langer “employees are encouraged to ask that question, if facing a challenge, can go a long way toward fostering curiosity.” Hopefully, some, if not all of these points can help you take your business to the next level of growth.

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