There are dumb questions

I hate hearing someone say, “There are no dumb questions.” It’s not true. Of course there are dumb questions. There are a lot of questions that should never be asked or should be asked as a last resort.

dog raising it’s paw
dog raising it’s paw

Questions that aren’t thought out are dumb.

A quick google search of “dumb questions to ask” yields some real gems. Among my favorite are:

  • “Sixty seconds and 1 minute aren’t really the same?”
    This question was about a microwave with different second and minute settings.
  • “What is a phobia of chainsaws called?”
    The best answer on the internet was “common sense.”
  • “If evolution is true, then why don’t pigs have wings?”
    The best answer on the internet was, “because evolution doesn’t give you wings, Red Bull does.”
  • “Am I out of shape if a turtle can outrun me?”
    No response needed here.
  • “What happens if I paint my teeth with nail polish?”
    My response, you get poisoned.
  • A personal one related to my having five kids. “You know where kids come from, right?”
    After I have mentally punched that person in the face, I ignore them and keep moving without giving an answer.

I think we can all agree; the questions above are dumb. They were asked without thought. And that is the lesson.

Any question posed without prior thought on the matter is likely to be a dumb question.

Questions asked when a 10-second google search will answer them are dumb.

I’ll raise my hand here. I have done this. I would bet we all have. We live in a world where we can get all kinds of amazing information with a voice command or quick search on our phone, computer, speaker, whatever. Even with that kind of access to information, it’s still too often that we are lazy and ask someone a question that we can quickly answer on our own, without burdening someone else.

The mistake we make is in wanting an answer too quickly. Somehow we think that if we ask the person next to us, interrupting their work, or slack someone a question, and then have to wait on the answer, that is better than figuring it out on our own. That is usually not the case.

When we have a question, the best first response is to ask, “how can I solve this on my own?” When the answer to that question is unknown, only then is it a good time to burden someone else by asking them a question.

Three questions I ask myself, so you don’t ask a dumb question.

If there are dumb questions, and I think we can agree there are, what can we do to make sure we aren’t asking them? Here are three questions I quickly ask myself before raising my hand to ask a question.

  1. Is the answer obvious? Asking this question makes me pause for a moment and think about my question. This brief pause is enough time for my brain to engage the question more thoroughly and make sure it is well thought out.
  2. Can I find the answer with a quick google search? If the answer to this is yes, I do that. The keyword here is quick.
  3. Is getting the answer to my question valuable enough to burden someone by asking it? If I’m going to interrupt someone’s workflow, I want to be sure it’s worth it.

Final thoughts

Questions are important. The ability to ask great questions is critical to success. Asking great questions is not easy. It is easy to fire off a half baked question, but taking the time to craft a great question will always be more effective. There are dumb questions. But, there are no thoughtful questions that are dumb.

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Husband. Father of six. Wearer of fedoras. Startup co-founder (with exit). Nonprofit co-founder & CMO. I write about personal growth and nonprofit marketing.

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