The gift of questions

31 Oct

There’s something about autumn– the contrast between nature’s rhythms slowing and the professional world launching into a frenzy of activity– that makes me particularly reflective about what drives me.  Three years ago at this time, having led nonprofit organizations for 20 years, I had begun to ask myself many questions. What do I really know that has value, apart from what’s embedded in my titular leadership role? What makes me curious? What gives me satisfaction about work? And beyond satisfaction, what do I owe the world as my contribution? I wanted to know. These questions became my rudders as I ventured into self-employment.

Questions give us permission to envision and try new things. Questions show respect for the inherent wisdom in other people, as well as the ambiguity and complexity of our world. Questions foster listening, and listening fosters questions. Friends and colleagues asked me many questions about what I planned to do, and why. Not that I had good answers. My first answers were much more about what I wanted to change, and what I didn’t want to do. But over time, each question, even the same question asked again at a different time and place, helped me to clarify my intentions.

Now, two years into the business, I’ve discovered that the short answer to the question of what I do is “questions”. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to hear from a client that my questions helped them see something new and take action with more confidence. I’ve discovered that I really do know how to ask questions that help organizations make sound decisions around direction, program design and program effectiveness.  The writing part of “write to know” captures those decisions.

The gift of good-spirited questions has come full circle for me. At the same time, I can’t remember when we’ve had such fundamental questions about our collective values as a society in my adult lifetime. So I’ve gathered some inspiring quotes about questions to inspire all of us to ask more questions, everyday!

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” -Carl Sagan

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” -Zora Neale Hurston

“In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”.- Bertrand Russell

“The one who asks questions doesn’t lose the way.” -African proverb

“Every clarification breeds new questions.” Arthur Bloch

“Questions are never indiscreet: answers sometimes are.” -Oscar Wilde

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The most important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” -Mahatma Gandhi

“We should not only master questions, but also act upon them, and act definitely.” -Woodrow Wilson