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Why you should ask stupid questions

Evan Baehr

In launching a venture in a totally new space I have had to ask a lot of stupid questions lately.  Early on I felt embarrassed; I thought: they won’t take me seriously; they will expect me to already know; they’ll think I am not smart.  But recently I’ve had a change of heart on this and developed a confidence to ask more stupid questions. 

By stupid questions I mean ones that have known answers that I might be expected to already know.  Someone throws out an acronym and I have a blank stare and ask: what does that mean? Ten seconds on google would return the basic answer.  To some, this is a stupid question—you might even say an “ignorant question.”

My change of heart came from developing a right view of “ignorance,” which I see as a "known lack of understanding."  For example, "I am ignorant of online payment protocols" means I have not spent time coming to understand them.  

I am on a lifelong quest as a learner—it excites and challenges me.  This passion comes from inspiration from Charles Eams, about whom this was written, "Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire. He was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work.”

Traveling on a journey of not knowing used to be one of my greatest fears—I had an idol of wanting to appear to be "in the know."  Now I realize that was a wrong view of knowledge—and a wrong view of myself.  Along this process I committed something even worse: pretending to know, an offense widely committed that carries huge costs: you undermine the intellectual integrity of the conversation by not knowing what is being said, you deceive others about yourself, and, worst of all, you fail to learn. 

I now have the courage to “sell my ignorance” and travel with excitement and courage along a journey of not knowing. If you have not already, I hope you, too, may find that courage.