Ken Coleman’s new book, One Question: Life-Changing Answers from Today’s Leading Voices, releases today. Ken is a long-time friend and colleague and multi-faceted talent. I invited him to share a guest blog to give you some insights from his new book. Here is what Ken shared:
WHY QUESTIONS MATTER
How can you develop the habit of inquiry? And how can you make sure that when you finally get the words out, they matter? The answer is surprisingly simple: know the question you want to ask, and then find someone who can answer it.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION
A good interviewer asks questions with the audience in mind. If you don’t know the audience, you can’t craft the right question. For most people, they are the audience. If we don’t know ourselves, the right question will be beyond our grasp.
As Leo Tolstoy once said:
“We have measured the earth, the stars, and the depths of the seas; we have discovered riverbeds and mountains on the moon. We have built clever machines, and every day we discover something new. . . . But something, some most important thing, is missing, and we do not know exactly what. We feel bad because we know lots of unnecessary things but do not know the most important—ourselves.”
Once you know yourself—your strengths, your passions, your sweet spot—you’ll recognize the answers you don’t know but need to know.
Additionally, the right question requires imagination. We must wonder what could be and how one might get there. How can this be done better? What could I do to solve this problem? How can I impact this person? We get stuck in the present only when we forget about the future.
ASK THE RIGHT PERSON
Once you have a question in mind, you have to find the right person to ask. If you ask the wrong person, you’ll get the wrong answer. You don’t want to ask a physics professor about U.S. history. The right question asked of the wrong person becomes the wrong question.
The persons you ask should be knowledgeable. They should under- stand the thing you are going to be asking. If it is a religious question, consider asking a minister. If it is a leadership question, think about asking a CEO.
The persons you ask should be credible. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom, and you want to ask your question of people who are wise—that is, they aren’t only experts who have studied or researched the matter, but they’ve lived it.
The persons you ask should be truthful. The right answer does you no good if people won’t give it to you. You not only need people with un- derstanding and experience but people with the guts to tell you the truth.
ACT ON THE ANSWER
Everyone needs the discipline to ask the right question, the discern- ment to ask the right person, and the determination to do something about it. The last step is the most important of all. An answer is only as useful as the listener’s willingness to act on it. In the preceding pages, you’ve encountered statements that spoke to you. They were cool water to your thirsty soul. You feel the urge, the impulse to act. An answer you’ve been searching for materialized on the page. That leaves you with my final question: What are you going to do about it?
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” As I sur- vey the landscape of my own community and people in my network of influence, I see the wisdom of that statement affirmed. How many walk through life resigning themselves to their current reality? I believe most people live in “quiet desperation” because they’ve stopped asking questions. They’ve quieted the inquisitive child that once echoed from within.
I’ve started gathering my children around me each night and saying something such as “Kids, you can ask me anything you’d like. You can ask me about the moon, about God, about what makes you mad— anything. What do you want to ask?” I refuse to let the fire of curiosity flicker out, so I’m nurturing the habit of inquiry in their lives early on. They need to know that you can’t act on an answer you don’t have and you’ll never get the answer until you ask the question.
Questions are keys that unlock life’s most important answers.
As you move from discovery to legacy in your own life, I’d leave you with one final challenge: never stop asking. Keep pressing forward with tenacious curiosity. Life’s greatest answers are waiting to be had if you are willing to seek them out. From my earliest memories until now, I’ve never stopped asking.
And I never will.