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Ask the dumb questions

Why you shouldn't be afraid of asking the "dumb" questions

Basic idea

  • Don't be afraid of asking "dumb" questions
  • Don't be afraid to state the obvious
  • Don't be afraid to look dumb
  • The fact that nobody else asked a similar question yet doesn't mean that the question you have in mind is dumb
    • It's possible that others have the same question but don't dare to ask it
    • It's possible that the question touches something relevant that didn't occur to anyone else before
  • Something that's obvious to one person might be not that obvious at all to others

The value of asking "dumb" questions:

  • Helps validating that you're talking about the same thing and that you're on the same page
  • Helps making implicit assumptions explicit and validating whether they are realistic
  • Helps finding edge cases or holes in the logic
  • Helps understanding the real reason you're doing something
  • Helps making sure you are solving the real problem
  • Helps finding alternative approaches
  • People asking the right questions can be very valuable in guiding the discussion towards good solutions, even if those people don't provide any potential solutions themselves
  • Even if the answer to a question seems obvious to you and to the rest of the team, asking the question is the only way to confirm that it's indeed obvious to everybody
  • Even if you are somehow the only one who is out of the loop, the team is way better off with you asking dumb questions and getting the info you need than with you continuing without asking for clarification

Some questions to ask

  • Why are we doing this, again?
  • What if ...?
  • Can it happen that ...?
  • Are we guaranteed that ...?
  • What problems are we looking to solve here?
  • What is actually the real issue?
  • How important is this?
  • How time-sensitive is this?
  • Is this a decision we can postpone?
  • What is the smallest thing we could do to immediately add value here? Any quick wins?
  • Do we need a full solution immediately or can we go for a partial solution or workaround in the short term?
  • What is the simplest approach that could possibly work?
  • Can we find an alternative that is simpler?
  • What would we actually accomplish by doing this?
  • Do we actually need to take any action at all?