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Good Questions

A mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. During periods of great change, answers don’t last very long but a question is worth a lot. The word question is derived from the Latin quaerere (to seek), which is the same root as the word quest. A creative life is a continued quest, and good questions are useful guides. We have found that the most useful questions are open-ended; they allow a fresh, unanticipated answer to reveal itself.

These are the kind of questions children aren’t afraid to ask. They seem naive at first. But think how different our lives would be if certain questions of wonder were never asked. Jon Collins of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has compiled the following list of questions of wonder:

  • Albert Einstein: What would a light wave look like to someone keeping pace with it'
  • Bill Bowerman (inventor of Nike shoes): What happens if I pour rubber into my waffle iron'
  • Fred Smith (founder of Federal Express): Why can’t there be reliable overnight mail service'
  • Godfrey Hounsfield (inventor of the CAT scanner): Why can’t we see in three dimensions what is inside a human body without cutting it open'
  • Masaru Ibuka (honorary chairman, Sony): Why don’t we remove the recording function and speaker and put headphones in the recorder? (Result: the Sony Walkman.)

Many of these questions are deemed ridiculous at first.

  • Other shoe companies thought Bowerman’s waffle shoe was a “really stupid idea.”
  • Godfrey Hounsfield was told the CAT scan was “impractical.”
  • Masaru Ibuka got comments like: “A recorder with no speaker and no recorder—are you crazy?”
  • Fred Smith proposed the idea of Federal Express in a paper at Yale and got a C.

Bits & Pieces, April 29, 1993, Page 5-7