The power of stupid questions

Interesting comments from Don Norman, 19 March 2013...

One of my concerns has been design education, where the focus has been centered too much upon craft skills and too little on gaining a deeper understanding of design principles, of human psychology, technology and society. As a result, designers often attempt to solve problems about which they know nothing. I have also come to believe that in such ignorance lies great power: The ability to ask stupid questions.

What is a stupid question? It is one which questions the obvious. "Duh," thinks the audience, "this person is clueless." Well, guess what, the obvious is often not so obvious. Usually it refers to some common belief or practice that has been around for so long that it has not been questioned. Once questioned, people stammer to explain: sometimes they fail. It is by questioning the obvious that we make great progress. This is where breakthroughs come from. We need to question the obvious, to reformulate our beliefs, and to redefine existing solutions, approaches, and beliefs. That is design thinking.

Ask the stupid question. People who know a lot about a field seldom think to question the fundamentals of their knowledge. People from outside the discipline do question it. Many times their questions simply reveal a lack of knowledge, but that is OK, that is how to acquire the knowledge. And every so often, the question sparks a basic and important reconsideration.