One Question

Summary Written by Jakob Browning
"Albert Einstein once said, 'To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science. What is true of science, I’m convinced, is true in all of life. Great questions are often the keys that unlock possibilities for human advancement.'"

- One Question, Introduction

The Big Idea

Develop the habit of inquiry

"Most adults accept the world around them–from their career choices to their values and beliefs–as fate. At some point during adolescence, and without the slightest protest, many of us fall asleep as inquisitive children and wake as adults submitted to the hand that life has dealt. Perhaps we decide that we’re too busy for curiosity and discovery. Or perhaps we come to believe that asking questions won’t bear any fruit. We begin to see life as a treasure chest filled with answers but guarded by a daunting padlock. If only we would recognize that questions are the keys that unlock life’s greatest and most helpful answers."- One Question, page 185

Coleman explains that questions accomplish several functions. Questions can reveal important things. “The right questions uncover truths we might not otherwise know.” Questions can get to the heart of a matter. Coleman compares questions to a surgeon’s scalpel saying that they cut through the surface information and help expose the real issues. Questions challenge the status quo and demand action.

At the crux of the power of questions is curiosity. Enlist the who, what, when, where, why, and hows to challenge, to inquire, and to dig deeper for the sake of learning. Being curious and asking questions can produce insights that you may have come to accept as normal. For example, have you ever thought about why the letters are arranged the way they are on a keyboard? Or what is the most efficient way to boil an egg?

So if questions are such great tools why isn’t everyone shouting their praises? It takes effort to process something to a sufficient level that you have a good question to ask. In a group setting asking questions can be the quickest way to be singled out for criticism.

We need to be a lot more like children. Be curious. Don’t take things at face value. Ask more questions.

Insight #1

Ask Others

"Occasionally, someone asks the right person the right question at the right time in the right way and magic happens: the person being interviewed moves beyond the mere facts to something deeper, something that flips a switch inside. The question produces an answer that inspires the interviewee, encourages him or makes him want to be a better person."- One Question, Introduction

Questions can be employed to do more than satisfy a burgeoning curiosity and a repertoire for an appearance on Jeopardy. Questions can produce insights previously unseen or help us make unlikely connections. Why are sales stagnant despite increased efforts in marketing? What is the best Thai restaurant in town? How do I start learning to build a web site?

I recently attended a presentation where the speaker explained that people invest a lot of time and effort into learning a skill or mastering a body of knowledge. She said that most of them are more than willing to share that information with others. There are a lot of smart people in the world. I’d even wager that you know a few that would be willing to spend some time with you to answer questions you may have whether that person be your boss, spouse, or an expert on Twitter.

Coleman stresses that you must ask the right question to the right person. No matter how nice a financial analyst may be, she likely won’t be able to answer a question about conjugating French verbs for you.

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Insight #2

Ask Ourselves

"Revealing, transformative answers to life’s most important questions surge with power. Their wisdom can shape us, improve us, and carry us through every stage of life. When we are beginning our journey to success, they will help us discover who we are and unearth the calling that only we can fulfill. When the storms of life rage, they will sustain us like a levee. And once we find success—in our professional lives, home lives, and spiritual voyages—those answers will ensure that we hang on tight and finish well."- One Question, Introduction

Questions are powerful tools of discovery when we direct them at others, but we can also learn a lot from asking ourselves questions. Stopping and asking “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” or “Who do I want to become?” can lead us to self discovery and can trigger reflection or evaluation of one’s self. Carefully constructed questions provide a window to insights unparalleled by any other resource.

Recently, my wife and I have made a habit of watching TED Talks in the evening and then discussing the different ideas and questions the talks present (a college professor once described TED Talks to me as “YouTube for smart people”). The result has been hours of conversations and questions about the material of the talks. More important than any one particular topic we’ve discussed is that we have started to ask ourselves more questions about where we are in life and habits we would like to change. These discussions have prompted us to take action and make changes in our lives that we may or may not have other wise implemented, but the questions were pivotal in the improvements.

This experience has proven to me the power of questions and how much can be learned by asking questions of others. But I’ve also experienced how asking myself more questions leads to growth. I have a notebook where I write down questions that I come across. While some of the questions make me laugh as I review them, others make me pause and question, such as “Do my actions reflect my priorities?” Recording and then trying to answer questions has helped me to dissect past successes and failures and continue to grow. I’ve found that questions are empowering, they help to reduce vague problems into actionable solutions.

In the comments below let us know how becoming more inquisitive has or can help you?

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Ken Coleman

In addition to being Host of The Ken Coleman Show, Ken is the author of the Simon & Schuster book, One Question: Life Changing Answers from Today’s Leading Voices and a sought after speaker.

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