Is There Such a Thing as a Stupid Question?

Maybe there is such a thing as a bad question. In 1994, President Clinton spoke at an MTV townhall on the topic of violence in America. The audience had the ear of the leader of the free world, and this was one of the questions.

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Context matters. While the question of boxers or briefs might be an essential one for you, it’s probably not relevant for others. A good question is one asked in the best setting to be answered.

Quality also matters. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s founder and a VC, spoke to Tristan Walker on this podcast, and Tristan shared this key insight into the questions investors ask. When the quality of questions goes down, he knew the investor had checked out.

What is a quality question? It’s about research. Tristan noted that the worst questions were ones that exhibited zero effort. Part of it is laziness, but it can also be fear of weakness or a desire to rush ahead.

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On online forums like Stack Overflow or Reddit, the community can be a little harsh to the uninitiated. It can be intimidating to ask a question. It is also no secret that moderators can be brusque to borderline threatening. But with a globally connected community of developers across all the various online forums, Stack Overflow in particular has managed to keep the quality of questions and answers high for over ten years.

I often get the question of how this plays out for deploying internal forums for companies? What we see with organizations is that internal engagement is more civil. Most forums will have as README or Help section to guide new users on the community norms that govern the site. Plus when you are part of an organization, everyone has a shared purpose. That is the social contract that fosters transparency and a culture of helping each other, so that people are empowered to collaborate and share more.

Over the years we have also learned what makes for quality questions that provides the most value. When the question are objective, that leads to better questions with clear cut answers. Questions that are opinion oriented do not generally lead to objective answers or valuable contributions

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The most important thing we have learned is that holding the line on good questions creates a virtuous cycle of sharing. When you collaborate more and create more and bring more of that collective intelligence to work, that is a recipe for solving problems faster and creating innovative solutions. The trust and value users see in the content grows over time and IT and business executives begin to see the fruits of greater collaboration.

What are some of your tips for asking good questions? Have you ever posted a question or answer on Stack Overflow (or other 170+ Stack Exchange sites)?

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How do you properly cook a steak?

And now the realization I have been doing it wrong all these years…

We help IT leaders in enterprises solve the cultural challenges involved in digital transformation and move towards a community based culture that delivers innovation and customer value faster. Learn more about our work here.

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Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, enterprise agility, community building & software engineering culture. Author 👉 https://twitter.com/marksbirch

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