Asking the right questions can unlock opportunities you didn’t even realize existed and take your career to new heights. Whether you’re an entrepreneur building a business or an employee looking for ways to grow and advance your career, questions are very powerful.
I spoke with Naveen Jain, CEO of Viome and serial entrepreneur with several multimillion-dollar businesses, to learn about how he’s achieved his success. His answer? Always asking questions. Specifically, questions that start with ‘why’ and challenge common ways of thinking.
The right questions.
Simply put, the more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll receive and the more solutions you’ll uncover. But it’s important to be asking the questions that nobody else is asking. By simply asking a different question, you can open up the possibility of having dozens of different answers and ways to solve a problem. “That is the power of thinking differently,” says Jain. “Not thinking smartly nor dumb, just differently.”
The power of why.
No other word holds nearly as much power as the word ‘why’. The simple three-letter word can shift your perspective, create opportunities, and take people and businesses to a level that was once thought to be impossible. Questions starting with ‘why’ are typically thought provoking and lead to more in-depth conversations and more follow up questions.
The power of being a novice.
When you’re new at something, you approach it with curiosity and an open mind. You’re eager to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time, and the best way to learn quickly is by asking questions. As a novice you’ll be seeing things from a different perspective than the experts.
Jain believes that once you’re an expert it can actually become harder to solve a problem. “The biggest asset you have when you’re new is that you don’t know what every expert knows, and you can ask different questions. Once you become the expert, you are actually the wrong person to be solving the problem,” he explains.
The power of being an outsider.
If you want to make a profound impact, think like an outsider. Think back to the last time you got stuck trying to solve a problem. You probably worked on it for hours, trying to think of every possible solution but just couldn’t find anything that worked. Feeling frustrated, you asked someone else for their opinion. They saw things in a completely different light and were able to offer a solution that ended up working.
This is the power of being an outsider and seeing things differently. “Disruption happens when people from outside the industry come in, challenge the foundation of the industry, and fundamentally rethink, redo, reimagine, and recreate the new world that they want to see,” says Jain. When you take the perspective of an outsider, you’re able to think more creatively and further outside of the box.
The power of thinking smaller.
The trick to solving a big problem is to break it down into smaller problems. “Think about what problems have to be solved in order for the big problem to be solved,” advises Jain. It’s much easier to tackle something step by step than it is to be staring down a behemoth of a challenge. By breaking a large problem down into much more manageable pieces, you’ll be able to make progress quicker and with fewer obstacles along the way.
Three questions you need to ask before starting something new.
With all of his successful ventures, Jain started out by asking the same three questions: Why this? Why now? Why me? He recommends asking those questions every time you start something new, as they’ll help you gain clarity and find direction.
Why this? Figuring out ‘why this?’ is very simple. “Whatever it is that you’re trying to do, imagine that you are actually successful in solving that problem. Would it somehow help or improve people’s lives?” asks Jain. If the answer is yes, you’ve found the right path to pursue. Jain also advises not to focus so much on the ‘how’, but rather the ‘why’. “The minute you start to ask yourself ‘how?’ you limit yourself to what is possible,” he says.
Why now? Is what you’re doing going to be relevant both now and into the future? You don’t want to create a business that will be obsolete in the next few years, so you have to be sure that your idea has long term benefit and potential for longevity.
Why me? To answer this question, you need to figure out what your unique perspective and value is. To do this, think about the questions you’re asking. “The questions you ask are the problems you solve. If you’re asking the same questions, you’re solving the same problems and you become a commodity. What questions can you ask that are different from what everyone else in the industry is asking?” asks Jain.
Every question you ask opens up a new pathway. They won’t all lead to success, but when you find the right question to ask it can be the key to unlocking something extraordinary.