THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Five tips: Get ahead by asking better questions

Now that I am committed to living on a farm which is sort of the anti-New York City, visiting New York City no longer brings up flashbacks to a really, really difficult lifestyle. Instead, New York fills my head with ideas.

The first one is a billboard I see as soon as I got off the plane: A good question is the new answer.

That rings true to me. I have been writing about asking questions for a long time. It's the best way to have a meaningful conversation and it's the best way to rope in a mentor or look like a star performer. People spend more time thinking about answers than questions, but it's the questions that make you look smart.

1. Good questions require creative thinking

Today, when all facts are available to all people, it's the questions that have become most important. To get to the answer, you have to ask the right question in a search bar. And to differentiate yourself in the workplace, you need to focus on questions, since answers are a commodity.

2. When you're lost, don't look for answers

One of the most frequent questions I get from people is "What's the best way to make a career change?" And the answer is to ask much more insightful questions than that one. For example, I know I want to write about the farm, but I'm not sure how to do it. So I've been asking questions about how photos fit into blogs and what is the intersection of farming, family, and business?

3. Think of your career path as a question path

I am spending time redecorating the farm house, though calling it redecorating is a stretch, since the farmer moved in twenty years ago when the couple living there died, and did not do one, single thing to redecorate. So the house is a time capsule from the 1940s.

Anyway, I wouldn't say redecorating is a career change, but maybe just a vocation vacation. Do you know that term? You try out a career for a few weeks? That's what I've been doing. And I realized that I'd only want to be an interior designer for my own house. But I like learning about interior design. And I am realizing that any career shift is about learning and exploring until you land in the right spot.

4. Good questions are lonely but important work

This struck me during my New York trip as well, because one of my best friends is Lisa Nielsen, who leads New York City Public School technology initiatives and writes a blog about education reform. She is a big advocate of me homeschooling my kids. She says that kids don't need to learn subjects. Kids need to learn how to ask questions about things they're passionate about. And that's no small task: First, you have to learn how to find your passions. Then you have to learn how to ask questions. Most adults can't do either thing well, which, I have to admit, is a good argument for taking kids out of school.

5. Field others' questions to improve your own

The last thing I did in New York is visit Seth Godin's office, to interview him for a webinar.. I realized that I am becoming increasingly impatient with questions that reflect poor self-knowledge. No one complained about Seth during the webinar though, because he had a better approach to the questions. He tells people what they are really asking. So the webinar is really a webinar on, among other things, how to ask a good question.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.