Asking Better Questions

Neil Morrison wrote a piece this week about strange things recruiters say, which talks about stuff like big hitters, industry experience and hitting targets among other things. The post got me thinking, less about the demands people put forward, and more about the questions people ask.

How intelligent are you?

I’ve got ten A star GCSEs, five A levels, a degree, an MBA. Actually I don’t have this wonderful list of qualifications, but that’s a typical answer to the question, ‘How intelligent are you?’

When you think about a response to that question, it almost certainly has its roots in a fairly traditional set of skills. Skills like maths, literacy, and science, or if you’re really old school, how about the three Rs – Reading wRiting and aRithmetic. They’ve all got their place, and yet in a world of work that increasingly craves creativity, a set of skills like this is not the only way to think about intelligence.

How are you intelligent?

In his book, The Element, Ken Robinson suggests the question ‘How are you intelligent?’ might be a better question to ask. Small twist, big difference. When you think about a response to that question, I hope you feel invited to pause and think beyond the three Rs. Think about how you draw, write, paint, play, invent, cycle, dance, see and hear. Simply because someone is less good at, say maths, and better at drawing, this doesn’t make them less intelligent, just differently intelligent.

Our current fixation on that which can be more easily tested for is limiting our opportunities to identify and work with the best people. So, not only do we need to think differently about the things we say, we need to think differently about the questions we ask. We need to think differently about intelligence.

3 thoughts on “Asking Better Questions

  1. Peter Cook

    Ken’s work is great and I wish I’d been intelligent enough to take his offer of writing a book together up when he invited me for lunch at Warwick about 12 years ago. I doubt we’d have ever completed it tho’ as he was at a point of despair with the state of education in the UK and moved to Southern California shortly after – the rest is history. Ah well…. 🙂

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  2. Julia Briggs

    This reminds me of a piece of half remembered research done by the Graduate Recruiters body. Only 5% of their cohort showed leadership traits when psychometrically profiled.

    PS Don’t forget the lovely Ken is on this season’s Desert Island Discs…..not sure when though…..

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  3. Chris Plush

    It’s the case that intelligence (and lots of other things actually) is generally based on a comparison, a benchmark and a desire to compare to the average. As Shaun Achor says, answers to questions generally end up rephrased to compare to the average and all that does is drag things down to the average.

    I do absolutely love “how are you intelligent” though – if that is the benchmark it (1) becomes incredibly varied and variable, (2) stops the comparison to the average and (3) maybe even allows for the average to move up rather then dumb down

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