The MurkyGrey blog


Talking to people about technology

Alright, maybe there ARE dumb questions

(but that’s completely beside the point)

It happens almost every time: I do a seminar, a panel or some other speaking engagement and it’s fun all the way down to the Q&A section. Then I see a hesitant hand raised from the back row and I already know that before asking their question, the person in the back would say something like “I have a bit of a dumb question”. And I answer, of course, but not before I add the automatic counter-preemption “there are no dumb questions” (usually stopping short of becoming the cliched grade-school teacher by omitting the “only dumb answers” part).

Recently, I took some flak from a co-presenter for this old habit. “Don’t say that” he said after the crowd has dispersed “you know damn well it’s not true, there are tons of dumb questions”. I did not think this was a fair comment, but it was kind of hard to argue with, and possibly true.

Let’s start with the “true” part. Are there really tons of dumb questions? What is a dumb question anyway? Perhaps if you ask a question that shows you completely failed to understand what I’ve been talking about for the past hour it could be considered dumb? I think not, more likely it shows that I failed to explain things properly or that I wasn’t targeting you (which means that it was a mistake to invite you, not your fault).

But forget all that. The actual dumbness of the question is completely beside the point! The person in the back row is not really saying “I think my question is dumb”. They are saying: “I’m not very comfortable speaking in front of all these people, so please don’t mock me or my question”. And what I’m trying to say to them is: “Don’t worry, I would never do that. Speak up, I am really interested in what you have to say”.

And so, my dear accidental critic, I fully intend to keep saying “there are no dumb questions.” I’m sorry it bothers you so much. And may I suggest you stop taking everything so literally? That might help too.


Category: Life, the Universe and Everything


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