Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

A weird cousin of the ‘curse of knowledge’ is the diminishment of curiosity. As you become more skilled at your craft, you basically become more full of answers. Correspondingly, you also become less full of questions. That’s troubling. 

In ‘A More Beautiful Question,’ Warren Berger asserts that there is an inverse relationship between the kind of natural curiosity that asks disruptive questions, and expertise. In other words, if you are an expert, you’re more likely to fall back on ‘what is known,’ and actually less likely to question your world in new and productive ways. This is a genuine threat, and can lead to atrophy and irrelevance. 

Becoming question-driven, rather than answer-driven

When I present on disruptive innovation, I often tell my audiences upfront that the master key to overcoming ‘the way things have always been done’ is the simple art of asking a different question. By preloading your mind with a question, prior to going into a scenario, be it a sales call, a strat. session, a meeting – anything – you will spur yourself to notice things that you never noticed before. 

Say, for instance, you walk into a meeting preloading this question in your mind:

‘What can I learn today by paying specific attention to the body language of those around me?’ This will organize your mind to view reality according to that framework, and you will notice things in accordance with it. You might see things very differently if you asked a different question, such as, ‘What is slowing us down here?’

What we refer to as an ‘open mind’ is essentially one that is still asking questions. A ‘closed mind’ is one that believes it has nothing more to learn. Questions, then, are the key.  

Bringing this idea back to the world of expert-positioning, the value of questions is in the fact that industries change over time. What we ‘knew’ ten years ago may be thoroughly dated now. When we are question-driven, we buck the extinction trend. 

If you’ve been in your industry more than a decade, here are some useful questions to ask yourself this week: 

- Is the technology I’m using really the best option, or is it just what I’m used to?

- What’s different about the landscape now compared to two years ago?

- Am I still energetically producing, or am I coasting on the strength of past successes?

- When last did I attend an educational session, or read a book, about my industry?

- Am I experimenting with anything new in my world? Do I have any new ‘toys’ to play with? 

- What’s next? 

Keep asking questions, and you could remain the greatest in your game. 


Douglas Kruger is a global speaker and author of five business books with Penguin Random House SA. He has won the national championships for Public Speaking, through Toastmasters International, a record 5 times.

In 2016, in honour of excellence in his craft, Douglas was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame, by the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. See him in action, or sign up for his free newsletter, ‘From Amateur to Expert’ at www.douglaskruger.co.za . Emailinfo@douglaskrugerspeaker.com