In our first Microeconomics class this quarter, our professor spoke of her experiences presenting research to audiences that included Nobel prize winners. She noticed that the Nobel prize winners were most often the ones who raised their hands and asked questions. Some of these questions might even have been perceived as “stupid” questions as they occasionally sought to clarify some of the most basic concepts of the discussion.
When she observed this pattern repeat over and over again, she realized that it was that willingness to learn and dig deep that made the Nobel prize winners special. You see, they might have been stupid when they started but they saw to it that they didn’t stay stupid for long. And, her message to us was to make sure we asked questions about any concept we didn’t understand in class.
This is my third iteration of being a student and, in my quest to learn how to learn, I feel like I’m finally begin to understand and internalize lessons like this. This is a trait I observed in top executives from my time as a consultant as well. They were very willing to look stupid and ask questions around the underlying assumptions. And, these questions often unearthed real insight.
This lesson reminded me of the Mark Twain quote – ‘ A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t.’
You don’t often control your current level of stupidity. But, staying at your current level of stupidity is entirely your choice. If you find yourself wondering if your question is a stupid question, remember the Nobel prize winners..