As a 10 year-old schoolboy I never expected that the lesson I value the most today would be one of my father’s rare pieces of advice back then.
It’s something I will testify to have had a huge impact on my business life. And yet I ignored it for over 20 years.
His advice? Ask one dumb question every day of your life.
As a 10 year old at an unforgiving boys school, this wasn’t something I was keen to hear – let alone try out in class. Yet fast-forward 30 years and now, owner of a brand strategy consultancy serving a host of local and international clients, I completely understand the value of his wisdom.
Stupidity lies in silence
Like us all, I often find myself in situations of varying hierarchies, egos and corporate politics, but with my father’s wisdom up my sleeve I’m confident that I can cut to the heart of any matter. How? By asking that one dumb question. Because the reality is, it is rarely as stupid as you think.
How often have you been itching to ask a question, but been too afraid to look stupid in front of others? What I now understand about my father’s advice, and what I wish I’d known in the classroom, is that you’ll nearly always have an invisible army of “I’d love to know the answer to that” sat right beside you.
Invisible until you ask a question which seemed so blindingly obvious until – that is – it comes to answering it.
And it’s why, when starting on projects – whether with CEOs or Senior Management teams, there’s one question asked in a very polite manner, that is always so wonderfully revealing… ;
“What is it that you actually do?”
The reactions are fascinating. Not only from the person the question is posed to – whose expression often goes from incredulity to highly focused within seconds – but from everybody else in the room.
So often in business there is too much ‘assumptive fluff’ covering things up. So break it down and be the hard-nosed customer demanding to know; What do you actually do that will matter to me? No matter whom you’re faced with, this one question can immediately tell you how clear, aligned and focused a business is. And from there, I can start to evaluate the business’ current positioning. But if ‘What do you actually do?’ is the artillery barrage question, then the next question is the hand-to-hand combat one.
Why? Why? Why?
Why do you do that? Why are you the best? Why should I believe you? And so on.
Ironically, children are great at this. It’s the reason all parents dread the repetitive “why” conversation. It is a direct challenge that demands an answer, and it WILL find the answer. It is the verbal equivalent of drilling for gold. I believe it demonstrates independent thinking, honesty, bravery, integrity, determination and confidence. And I think my father believed the same.
It may have taken a while to understand the value of my father’s advice, but I’m certainly making up for that now. So now I’ve got a question for you: what’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given? Or, perhaps more importantly, what are you doing with it?