Questions?

Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about useful questions. Finding a useful solution is always predicated on someone asking a useful question that puts you down the path to that solution. Going forward, the ability to ask useful questions is going to be more and more key to gainful employment, as computers and robots take over the task of generating answers. Even answers we thought only humans could find.  However, the day when IBM’s Watson will come up with innovative questions is still far beyond the horizon.

How do we learn to ask good questions? As I mentioned yesterday, it has a lot to do with experience. Either you generate your own hard-earned experience or draw on that of a mentor. In this regard, I think apprenticeships, trade schools, and PhD programs have a vast advantage over most traditional undergraduate education.

In question training, Cornell engineering seems to create a division: the undergraduate education teaches you to create answers, and a graduate education prepares you to create questions. The problem with this structure is that people are less and less needed to create answers, which I’d guess be an unaddressed factor in the declining value of an undergraduate degree in many fields. Also, the longer someone is taught only to find answers, the harder it is for them to start asking good questions.

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