Ask the Dumb Questions | March 2010

An article titled Ask the Dumb Questions in USA Today caught our eye. It was so relevant to new business decision-makers that we’ve made it a pre-read for all our PriSim courses.

It takes courage to admit that you just don’t understand the whys and wherefores of the current U.S. financial crisis – especially when you’re a professor of business at Columbia University, as the USA Today author is.

And it takes an equal measure of confidence to rally others to fight the fear of looking dumb by …asking “dumb” questions to figure it out.

In “Ask the ‘dumb’ questions,” Dr. Seth Freeman discusses a common fear: “I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t really understand what’s going on. But I better act like I do.”

Why are we so afraid of looking dumb? One explanation could be that managers don’t know what questions to ask, but from teaching finance and strategy to thousands of leaders each year, we also find they don’t ask critical questions due to a lack of confidence in their business acumen. It is important that new leaders understand that they need to develop the confidence to ask the “dumb” or tough questions.

It takes courage, but the ability to ask “dumb” questions helps managers understand the true nature of challenges, get to the root cause of problems, and discover answers that often lead to change and improvement.

Freeman is right: “dumb” should be considered the new smart.