Ask Stupid Questions

There are two kind of people when it comes to asking questions: First of all there are the people who don’t want to ask ‘stupid’ questions. These people are afraid that others would laugh at them, or that others would consider them stupid. The more people are involved in the conversation, the harder it is for these guys to ask for help – even when they know they should. These guys end up paying high conference fees, smiling, nodding and telling how everything was wonderful – although they don’t have a clue what was talked about.

I personally believe there is no such thing as a ‘stupid question’. It’s not matter of stupidity – it’s matter of knowing something or not knowing something. If in the middle of a conversation, a company stakeholder asks “What’s Java?” – the programmers might smile or think “How crazy is this? Guy owns a tech company making applications primarily in Java, and he don’t even know what the term means”. Well, if the programmer then need to ask “What’s ROI?” – the stakeholder might smile. Both are extremely basic information, but you just have to know what they mean if you want to talk about them. It’s not matter of stupidity, it’s matter of knowing terms.

Then there are those people who ask questions. If they don’t know a meaning of something, they might simply others to give more information. They might ask “could you clarify, what you mean by ‘company strategy’ in this context?”. Or they might say “You mentioned bump mapping, I’m not quite sure what it means or how it would enhance the user experience. Could you give me bit more information about how it works?”. The higher levels the talk goes, the more important it is to know exactly what people are talking.

Being afraid does not help anything, and if others smile at you… well, then that’s basically their problem – not yours. You cannot change the way other people think about you, and it’s up to you to whether you understand or not what others are talking about.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. @Toraux: I believe the problem is not the question… it’s the fact that the guy was late. In that situation the problem is not the question :)

    @Kevin: Good points, although I don’t think 5th point applies everywhere. Sure, there are these negative forces, but it’s up to you to surround yourself with positive minded people – those who do not limit you but, support your doing.

  2. I disagree, there is such thing as a stupid question. The stupid question is the totally off topic question, or the one posed by the guy who happens to be 45 minutes late for a class or meeting about something that was covered when he wasn’t there. Generally its not so much the content of these questions but the timing.

  3. I’ll let you all in on some of the worst kept secrets to being successful in nearly any endeavor. While these secrets aren’t well hidden, many people have difficulty realizing them.

    1. Enjoy what you do. If you find yourself dreading work repeatedly, find other work. If you hate your job, then find another job. I’m not advocating leaving the moment your job isn’t fun. But if it remains intractably miserable, then you should leave.

    2. Don’t be afraid to show your ignorance, it is nothing to be ashamed of. “He who asks, learns.” As a CIO, I had to manage tech support personnel. I was amazed at the ‘tech-arrogance’ some of them displayed. To counter this, I reminded them to remember the day when they didn’t know the answer – and to try to view the client through that lens. We aren’t all born with the inate knowledge we’ll need to succeed.

    3. Risk defeat. Success is never gained by any means but risking loss. I won’t elaborate on this one.

    4. Never define yourself by what you do. Define yourself by who you are. Defining yourself by what you do leads to the easy temptation of defining others by what they do. Cheapening yourself this way limits your exposure to a wealth of experiences. Don’t fall into that trap.

    5. Never limit yourself – others will find ways to try to limit you. Why give them any assistance?


  4. I agree that.. you can not be afraid of asking question, does not matter the level of stupidness involved…

    Losing the opportunity to ask something, is the same as losing the opportunity to get more information and know more terms. If you always ask, the more info you can get and people wont kick you out, because you are not afraid of asking questions(you got accustomed).

  5. I might just say “those who really focus on what they read and will ask questions” ;) …but I’m afraid it was just a plain error from my part (I used a word “three” rather than a word “two” in the beginning of the blog enty). Edited now, thanks for pointing it out. Nice to see you pay close attention on what you read.

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