Question the Question
Here’s a thought.. And I welcome your thoughts in return..
Back when I was in the ninth standard/grade in school, while I wasn’t too bright in studies. With the exception of Math and Physics. In those two, I was competing for between the 6th and 9th position in class. They weren’t subjects I had to study or know. It just somehow came logically.
Feeling comfortably confident while preparing for a Physics exam, I got thinking about the kind of questions I would have asked, had I got a chance to set the paper. I did manage to frame quite a few interesting and not-so-direct questions. I was glad that I also managed to answer my tricky questions.
Then something struck.
It dawned on me that it isn’t very easy to frame intelligent questions. And that I wouldn’t have been able to do so had I not known the subject well. Considering I hadn’t had similar luck with a lot of other subjects at the time or even later.
Voltaire knew what he was saying when he urged us all to “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
The way I see it, all of us are trying to be experts at one or more things. Which is a good thing. But we aren’t experts when we think we know the answers. We become experts whenever we frame the right questions. It is because questions set us on the right course. Answers, on the other hand are abundant and commonplace. Most importantly, answers frequently change too. Hence the importance on questions.
Don’t believe me, ask someone for their views on a topic or question close to your heart. With the limited information you give them, you’d be amazed at all the confident advice you receive. But if they’re not initially replying to your question with some intelligent questions of their own, you can safely assume one of two things: either they’re experts and have done some thinking around that space recently; or they haven’t a clue.
A to B to C
This one is in connection to some earlier posts on ‘Impactful brevity’ and on effective communication (So what’s your Point?). A friend recently sent me a hilarious video on WhatsApp that somehow reminded me of an incident from high school that I was surprised I remembered. Wonder how the memory had managed to survive in the junk in my head for so long.
Here’s what had happened. During a Physics lecture somewhere in high-school, our teacher was explaining to us, the oscillation of a pendulum. We drew the oscillating pendulum, which looked something like the one below, and we noted the definition as instructed, which read something like, “one oscillation of the pendulum, is when the pendulum moves from point A-B-C-B-A, or from B-A-B-C-B, or from C-B-A-B-C.” The definition seemed a little (very!) amusing, but I guess there weren’t many other ways to define it
While studying for the upcoming test, and this was probably the simplest definition; a realization hit me. It was that the definition completely depended on the drawing or image, and that it would be meaningless without it. Then another thought hit me. That I was probably really stupid to make such a big deal of something so obvious.
When we got our test scores, having scored reasonably well, I was quite upbeat. The teacher, while reviewing overall performance, mentioned the question on oscillation. I wondered, the definition couldn’t possibly have gotten any easier, so why was he bothering to mention that. He said, that a good number of students in class had defined oscillation with the ‘A-C-……’ definition, but had not drawn the diagram, and hence their definition was meaningless, and it didn’t get them any scores for that answer. Damn, I thought. Suddenly, my realization didn’t feel all that stupid.