Whether we’re in the boardroom or the classroom, we spend far too much time and energy looking for the right answer. But the truth is that questions are just as important as answers, often more so. If you ask the wrong question, for instance, you’re guaranteed to get the wrong answer.
A good question, on the other hand, inspires a good answer and, in the process, invites deeper understanding and more meaningful connections between people. Asking a good question requires us to move beyond what we think we know about an issue or a person to explore the difficult and the unknown, the awkward, and even the unpleasant.
JAMES E. RYAN is the eleventh dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Before joining Harvard, he was the Matheson & Morgenthau Distinguished Professor at the University of Virginia Law School, where he founded the school’s Program in Law and Public Service. He is the author of the nonfiction work Five Miles Away, A World Apart. A former clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, as well as a former rugby player, he has argued before the United States Supreme Court. He lives with his wife, Katie, in Lincoln, Massachusetts, with their four kids, two dogs, two cats, and nine chickens.