Debate Magazine

“Questions Are the New Answers” (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

I read an essay from ex-venture capitalist (now bestselling author) Peter Sims that I really liked. I have nothing to add to what he wrote, so I’ll just share my favorite passages:

[D]espite the myths, most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas, they discover them. It’s an approach that can be learned and taught, but rarely is in today’s schools.

That’s because our educational system emphasizes spoon-feeding us knowledge, such as scientific tables or historical information, and then testing us in order to measure how much we’ve retained about that body of knowledge, rather than teaching us how to create knowledge.

Utilizing existing knowledge works perfectly well for many situations, but not when doing something new, creative, or original.

We are given very little opportunity, for instance, to perform our own original experiments, and there is also little or no margin for failure or mistakes.  We are judged primarily on getting answers right.  There is much less emphasis on developing our creative thinking abilities, our abilities to let our minds run imaginatively and to discover things on our own. . . .

[W]e can change the way we’ve been trained to think.  That begins in small, achievable ways, with increased experimentation and inquisitiveness.  Those who work with Jeff Bezos, for example, find his ability to ask “why not?” or “what if?” as much as “why?” to be one of his most advantageous qualities.  That’s why, borrowing a phrase from Ryan Jacoby, an associate partner at IDEO: questions are the new answers.

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