Often, the best “answer” can be thoughtfully delivered in the form of a question. In learning and in life, I have spent a great deal of my career focused on answering questions, and have–even if sometimes reluctantly–applauded mentors that have forced me to answer some tough ones myself.

In my early years as a student, I recall times where questions seem to be dismissed as annoying and, for a short stint of time, my frequency of asking questions slowed and I began to mirror the behavior by dismissing questions that most needed answering. Fast forward to my current reality, and I can genuinely say that I now ask more questions than ever before. I question others and, even more importantly, craft complex questions for myself. Sometimes they are delivered in the form of an inner war within my mind that allows for multi-angled solutions, but each and every time they are delivered with a glorious joy of possibility.

Questioning is not a new topic of conversation within my leadership journey, and it is very much aligned with the Smart Design Framework that I apply and coach daily. I suggest intentionality in identifying individuals that challenge your thinking. These individuals (who are everywhere) will ensure increased capacity for growth in all aspects of learning for life. In my world, I have labeled these individuals as “askers.”  These deeper learning partners support reflection and create additions to your mental landscape that drive collaboration and bring design thinking to life.

Below is a collection of some of the askers that I have encountered over my life. As you will uncover, each can play a very important role in who you are and will become as a leader. As you process these various “askers,” I would challenge you to identify three things: who are these individuals in your life, who needs to be added to your “asker” team, and how can you use them to become a better you?

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The “Other Side of the Coin” Asker

On the surface, this individual can sometimes be labeled a naysayer. In my own beginnings as a leader I would diligently provide headache on top of headache with a level of frustration that often created doubt. At first glance, people like this appear to be adversaries in a war where there can be only one winner. They embody Steven Covey’s, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Full disclosure–I can think of a time or two when I was this individual. As I acknowledged this fact, I learned how to quickly turn these individuals into incredible sounding boards for growth. By pausing to truly listen and then applying empathy to walk in their shoes to gain perspective, I could no longer “argue” the absolute value. As shared above, there are multiple angles in designing solutions.

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The “I Believe in You, But Want You to Believe in Yourself” Asker

One of my strongest “askers” holds me accountable and grounds my Willy Wonka mindset to anchor the details in my design of any and everything.  From professional endeavors to personal growth in all aspects of life, these individuals drive self-discovery and rarely provide answers.  While this relationship format will initially be one of the most frustrating experiences of your life, it will drive discovery of all things within that are just waiting to be released, polished and delivered to the world.

You will know that this relationship has truly arrived when you sit down for coffee and engage in an hour of questions, mentally sparring with answers to questions in the form of questions, followed by clarifying questions to the original question. Your hunger for these encounters will have you pacing in anticipation for your next duel. Find a whiteboard, journal or a napkin and capture everything you possibly can.  Be intentional in throwing your lasso on the pieces that you think are irrelevant and smile when the light bulb turns on, even more so the next day, week or month.

Your hunger for these encounters will have you pacing in anticipation for your next duel. Find a whiteboard, journal or a napkin and capture everything you possibly can. Be intentional in throwing your lasso on the pieces that you think are irrelevant and smile when the light bulb turns on, even more so the next day, week or month. 

The “Been There, Done That” Asker

This is an important person in your quest for people who question your thinking and are often quick to dismiss your opinion. We’ve all encountered this asker in muareas arenas of life. They are the individuals that have only been wrong one time; but quickly determine that they were wrong about being wrong, taking their “wrong tally” back to a proud, “never.” They love to engage, and appear knowledgeable about things that they often have no knowledge of–genuine black belts in the art of the “one up.”

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This asker strategically presents questions which they have the answers to and salivate with anticipation of the verbal and non-verbal “gotcha.” They are critical in the grand design. I repeat, they are CRITICAL. When appropriately addressed, they can be your greatest allies in implementing change and provide action around making things happen. You see, the “been-there-done-thats” have an insatiable desire to be heard, and a relentless work ethic around being right. With proper alignment, understanding and the trust of access to actionable items to one of the many things that they have “mastered,” you will have reduced their resistance and capitalized on their confidence to deliver.

Questions fuel the world.

As I drift into my daily visit to “what if land,” I think about all the things that started with a question. The undeniable possibilities that accompany designing something that didn’t exist or the challenge of building a better mousetrap. Regardless of the source, they are jumping off points for the next jumping off point, and they are controlled by you. Celebrate the journey that questions create and the brilliance that they uncover, spark and deliver. Be intentional in identifying your “Askers,” and more importantly, the questions have you been afraid to ask. If you are looking for a deeper learning partner who will support

Questions fuel Impact-driven, solution based design thinking.

Looking for a deeper learning partner who will support the strategic discovery of answers to questions through the absolute power of solution-based, impact-focused design thinking? Contact Adam Kulaas, Getting Smart Director of Coaching and School Design, at [email protected]

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