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The Power of Stupid Questions

ScrumPosted by Shane Billings Thu, September 10, 2015 19:38:47

There are no stupid questions. But wait. Yes there are. You and I know it. We've all heard them. "Wow. That was a stupid question," you have often thought to yourself.

Most of the time the questioner of stupid things doesn't know the question was dumb. Yet here we are listening to the absurd and trying to make sense of it.

Let's consider this. What makes the question stupid? Why do we think it was dumb?

It has been my experience that stupid is in the eye of the beholder. One man's stupid is another man's genius. Usually the derogatory label is placed on the question because it is so far out of our paradigm that certainly there is information missing. If all the information was had, this question could be avoided. We could have continued on our merry way.

And there it is - the reason we don't like the stupid question. We could have continued in our bliss and not had to answer let alone consider the topic. We are too smart to have to waste our time on the issue.

I have been witness to many dumb questions.

"Why do we do that?"

"Can we just skip that step?"

"What should we do about this problem?"

"Do you want fries with that?"

"Can this be fixed?"

For the seasoned Scrum Master, there is power in the stupid question. It may sound stupid, but its real intent is to get people to think differently than they have in the past - to consider the possibility that the real answer might be "I don't know." After that answer, the real truth can come out.

The observant Scrum Master is wary of answers like,

"We've always done it that way."

"That step can never be modified."

"There is nothing we can do about the problem."

"If I wanted fries, I would have ordered them."

"No one can fix that."

I have recently come to appreciate the stupid question more as a Scrum Master. In fact, it's my main tool now. I have been asked to be a Scrum Master for a team that is building hardware for test equipment. I know little about what they are doing and even less about their process. So all my questions are stupid. But the answers are worse. They are worse because they don't help improve. They keep the status quo.

I told that to a friend at work.

"I think it's important to ask stupid questions."

"I'll bet you do really well at that."

Thanks. That was a softball to be sure. What I meant to tell him was that I've finally made headway with this team. I've asked enough questions that they have finally begun to question themselves. Now we are making progress.

Maybe there aren't stupid questions. Maybe there are only stupid answers.

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