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Smart People ask Stupid Questions

15 March 2011

Asking questions that challenge assumptions, even at the risk of sounding dumb, may be the key to finding innovative workplace solutions. - by Chen Jingting

What if managers are like Mr Bean? How can staff be like roti prata?

Before you dismiss these questions as, well, stupid, take some time to ponder. You may well come up with some creative solutions.

The United States celebrates “Ask A Stupid Question Day” on the last day of school in September. The tradition, which started in the 1980s, aims to encourage children to ask questions without fear of sounding stupid.

So why should managers be like Mr Bean? Perhaps by being as lovable and approachable as this British comic character, managers could create a fun work culture where employees are happy and thus more productive.

Or, if staff can “reinvent” themselves like roti prata, which comes in many flavours (pizza prata, anyone?), there will be no lack of exciting ideas from them.

Management gurus advocate the need for management and employees to question the usual ways of doing things, even if they sound foolish.

The onus is on management to build a corporate culture where employees dare to ask silly questions, argues award-winning author and consultant Alan Gregerman, known as the “Robin Williams of business consulting”.

“It might not be a bad idea to give awards for the stupidest questions of the year – the ones with answers that ended up making us a more effective and valued company or organisation,” advises Mr Gregerman on his website.

To boost workplace creativity, ‘foolishness’ is needed, says business creativity expert Fredrik Härén, author of The Idea Book, which has sold over 200,000 copies worldwide. “If people feel it is okay to make a fool of [themselves], they tend to become braver [at being creative]… ‘Why are we doing this?’ That is a question that a lot of people should ask much more often.”

What are the consequences of not asking enough stupid questions? Just look at history, he adds. “The Titanic sank and killed almost all onboard and no one had asked why there were no life-vests. Actually, the one who is stupid is the one who doesn´t ask stupid questions.”

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