How You Can Benefit By Asking More Questions

The actor Colin Firth has one. So does Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. And let’s be sure to include Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck. She not only identified it, she also named it.

“It” is growth mindset. As defined by Dr. Dweck, those with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their talents through hard work, good strategic choices and input from others, reports Forbes.

If you have a growth mindset, you like to try new things and learn, including learning from the mistakes you make. You ask questions, embrace challenges and view your efforts — and the setbacks — as advancing you on a personal path to mastery, which can be a long and winding road with many detours.

By contrast, those with a fixed mindset believe their talent is a fixed trait. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your genes determine your smarts. You treat your intelligence as being static. As a result, you focus on preserving what you know. And if you know a lot, you’re tempted to show that you’re the smartest person in the room. You also prefer to avoid challenges because if you don’t perform as expected, people may see that you’re not as smart, talented or popular as they assumed you were.

To say it another way, a fixed mindset values being good while a growth mind values getting better.

In recent years, especially as more individuals have experienced the value of growth mindsets, Dr. Dweck has been cautioning that “pure” mindsets don’t exist. We humans are a combination of both, and we continue to vacillate between the two mindsets depending on our experiences and the situations we face. (For common misperceptions, check out her article, What Having a Growth Mindset Actually Means.)

Asking More Questions

Regardless of where you personally are on the mindset continuum though, you can benefit by expending more energy asking questions and learning instead of worrying about how others perceive you and your talents.

When you make an effort to learn, you expose yourself to new ideas, people and situations. You also can feel a sense of accomplishment for pushing yourself to try new things and experiment, which encourages you to continue learning.

For example, consider Colin Firth’s encounter with the field of neuroscience. His inquiry and exploration is a provocative story about trying to learn about people’s different thinking styles. Several years ago, the Academy Award-winning actor wondered if structural differences exist between the brains of conservatives and liberals. It’s an interesting, yet controversial hypothesis in the new and growing field of neuropolitics.

Two researchers, one specializing in structural and functional neuroimaging analysis and the other a professor of cognitive neurology and director of imaging sciences, accepted Firth’s challenge. They devised and executed a research study that first involved asking students to self-report their political attitudes and then conducted brain scans using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Their research report, “Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults,” which also includes Firth and the science correspondent for BBC Radio, Tom Feilden, as co-authors, stressed throughout that they cannot make any causal claims for their discovery. Remember, correlation does not indicate causation.

Regardless, the path Firth followed, along with the research results, are a great case study to show that:

• Asking good questions rather than knowing the right answers is a powerful skill today, especially in our polarized VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. You can jump start conversations that others can contribute to and mine new ideas and insights. Some thoughtful questions include: What would our best customer like us to do next? If you were Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett or any person you admire, how would you analyze this opportunity? What are you struggling with most right now? This last question, courtesy of Dr. Dweck, is a great way to foster a growth mindset. That’s because it assumes you haven’t achieved perfection, which means you should practice and experiment.

• The act of tackling new topics, especially outside your main line of work, can be empowering and enlightening. Plus, your new found knowledge can position you for new opportunities. Granted you may not enjoy Colin Firth’s stature to influence experts to study the questions you pose, but you still can explore new areas and learn something both interesting and useful. And don’t dismiss the value of learning about subjects that may be complementary to what you’re already doing. For example, delve into how big data may give you some insights on how you can improve what you’re doing now.

• The brain remains our last frontier. Even though we’ve learned so much over the past couple of decades, there’s still so much we don’t know. However, we are discovering that we can change how we think, including our mindset. The adult brain is surprisingly malleable, especially if you make an effort to become more self-aware about how you think and learn. When you figure out your best way to learn, you’re better equipped to optimize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses and make learning and behavior changes seem more like play than work.

So if you want to be more resilient, agile and adaptable, take time to learn. When you focus on learning, asking questions and practicing, you improve. You also can become more creative, innovative and trustworthy.

What’s not to like about that?

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