When you were 5, your curiosity was highest. You averaged 65 questions daily, most starting with "Why?" The average 8-year-old asks 41 questions; at 44 years, we ask six—most starting with "When?" or "Where?" or "How much?"
Questions increase again at retirement. "Where are my keys?" "Why did I walk into this room?"
It could be said, "We entered school as question marks and we graduated as periods." How depressing.
Afterschool programs combat this downward spiral—challenging youth and facilitators to share ideas, look for second right answers, prototype possibilities and have fun!
We incorporate these questions into our WAGiLabs afterschool playbook, to teach youth how to become a social innovation kidpreneurs.
1. What's right about it? Be curious first, critical second with a new idea. Ask what's right; let the vision of possibilities dance in everyone's head before passing judgment or calculating success probabilities.
2. Why? Research shows we stopped asking "Why?" and started asking "What, when, where and how?" Increase questioning by asking "Why?" more often. Dr. W. Edwards Deming, designer of continuous improvement, states you must ask "Why?" five times to get to your challenge's root cause.
3. What's an analogy that will redefine what's possible? Seek an analogy to your situation to redefine your options, strategy and possibilities. My favorite: "How would a NASCAR pit crew design a solution to solve this challenge?"
4. What would we "never" do to solve this challenge? Albert Einstein said to always look for second right answers. I ask, "What would I never do?" after coming up with a solution. Look at your never list. "What if I did this 'never' solution?" "What's right about this crazy solution?"
Or ask, "What's the opposite of how others solved my challenge?" Could there be a breakthrough idea? If so, flip an opposite into an opportunity. This might sound absurd, contradictory or illogical, yet might be brilliant, true and logical. It could open possibilities, clear mental blocks, and counter false assumptions.
Don't ask, "What did you learn today?" Ask, "What questions did you ask today?" And ask everyone!
We all started school as question marks. I hope we'll regain that status by asking great questions, every day.
Consider how our lives will change if we retire as question marks instead of periods. We can spend our golden years asking, "What great book should I read today?"
Not, "Where are my car keys?"
Chic Thompson is a Batten Fellow of Entrepreneurship at the University of Virginia's Darden Business School and adjunct faculty at the Brookings Institution and the Young Presidents' Organization. His first book, "What a Great Idea!" was published by HarperCollins; Harvard Business School released a case study on his speaking career. Chic's latest creative adventure is founding WAGiLabs, a global, social innovation incubator for kids' ideas.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of AfterSchool Today, the official publication of NAA.