Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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Talk Quick!
99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
(12 Discussion Activities, 33 pages, Cross Referenced, $10)

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99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2015 Brian Remer
Updated Feb. 2016

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

February 2016 -
Ask Stupid Questions: Don't be afraid to increase expertise

Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.

Ask Stupid Questions
"Why is the light switch in the hall outside and not in the bathroom itself?" Amused by the "obvious" simplicity of the query, our Basque friend replied, "To avoid electric shocks, of course!"

This is the beauty of cultural exchange. You get used to asking stupid questions. Then, back in your own culture, you continue asking questions that you would have considered stupid before.

Often, when new to a subject we are too ignorant to know what questions to ask. But when a subject is familiar, we know too much to consider asking questions at all!


You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.


There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

Children are famous for constantly asking Why? We can forgive them their ignorance because we know they lack knowledge, experience, and critical thinking skills. But if a colleague or peer were to ask the same thing, we might be concerned about their common sense, not to mention their intelligence.

It's hard to be patient with people who don't know what we think they should know. How can they be so oblivious to the obvious?

In these cases, we run into the limits of our own expertise. It's nice to be an expert with its recognition, esteem, and, in some cases, star power. But experts tend to overlook the years of experience and preparation that brought them their incredible knowledge. They may forget their starting place on the game board of life and neglect to take into account that everyone else started the game on a different square.

Fortunately, there are some experts who have earned their title because they can admit that they have so much more to learn. For them, asking questions is critical to increasing their level of expertise. They know that stupid questions are only stupid if you think you already know the answer.

And here's the catch: Everyone is an expert at something so each of us can choose whether we want to be the All-Knowing Expert or the Always-Questioning Expert.

To repress your tendency to be the All-Knowing Expert, here are five suggestions for answering silly questions. Give a straight forward, nonjudgmental answer to the person's query then say, "That's an interesting idea," and choose one of the following:

1. "Tell me more about what's behind your thinking"
2. "What other ideas do you have about the situation?"
3. "How have you experienced this type of thing before?"
4. "If we followed your thought to the next level, where might it lead?"
5. "What do you think about my answer to your question?"

To increase your knowledge base as an Always-Questioning Expert, silly questions can be the most productive if taken seriously. Since, you may not hear naive questions as often as you need why not learn to ask them yourself? Here are five ways to ask stupid questions more often:

1. List all the aspects or elements of a situation then examine them individually. Try to figure out the reason for various relationships, processes, and assumptions.
2. Invite a "foreigner" (a colleague from another department, someone from a different profession, a friend who speaks a different language, or a person from a different culture) to assess your situation.
3. Ask Why? Come up with an answer then ask Why again. Keep asking Why until your answer ends up being something like, "Well, that's just the way it is."
4. Ask a young child to explain your situation or to describe what is happening. Listen respectfully to their answer and probe further with some follow-up questions.
5. Have a colleague pretend to be a historical figure from two hundred years ago who has been transported across time. Explain your situation to this time traveler and encourage them to interrupt you with stupid questions.
6. When you travel, even if only across the city, practice asking obvious questions. Ask the same question to different people even if you know the answer. Keep a journal of these questions and answers. It will help you remember to ask them over and over.
7. Sales people, docents, educators, health and social service professionals, and many others give answers as a big part of their job. Take advantage of them and be prepared for a serious response whether you are highly interested or not.

Now here's a stupid question for you: Why do you think I offered five ways to ask stupid questions but listed seven?

Got an answer?

Readers Respond

Here are some responses to my stupid question above:

Good article. Aligns for sure with my beliefs. And here is my answer to your question:

"Because nothing makes sense, and neither does anything else."

That helps explain a LOT of things, like why people seem to think Trump would make a good president or why cell phones do that crazy substation (see what my spell-checker substituted for the incorrectly spelled word, substitution?) stuff they do or whatever…

Have more fun out there. And I hope that all things go well. - Scott Simmerman


Thanks for your always engaging and amplifying activities. I think you gave us seven because the first five involve learning how to answer those questions while the last two focus on how to interpret and cope with the answer to our "stupid questions". - Stephen Schumann


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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