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The Mysterious Power of Questions

Questions are our most potent intellectual tool. They are the most significant arrows in our intellectual quiver.

How questions are framed really matter. Change just a few words, modify the syntax, and you could get a very different answer. I credit Gordon Allport for this pithy story to illustrate this:

Two Catholic Priests were engaged in a disagreement on whether or not it was permissible to pray and smoke cigarettes at the same time, with one of them insisting there is nothing amiss by doing so, and the other holding fast to the view that it is inappropriate to do so. They finally decided to resolve their dispute by writing a letter to the Pope for the definitive answer. Each priest wrote separate letters containing their inquiry. And after a few weeks, both priests received separate, individual letters from the Vatican containing the Pope’s answer. When they approached each other with their letter in hand, both were gloating. Why? Because the Pope had agreed with both of them!

How could this be?

“Wait, how did you frame the question?” the first priest inquired. “I asked if it is permissible to smoke while praying, and His Holiness said that it is not, since the very act of prayer is a sacred act and requires one’s undivided attention. But how did you frame the question?” asked the second priest. The first priest replied, “I asked if it is permissible to pray while smoking, and His Holiness replied that of course it is permissible, since it is always appropriate to pray, no matter what else is going on around a person.”

Again, how we structure a question may well determine the answer we get.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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