In praise of “stupid questions”

I love what designer, Bruce Mau, calls “stupid questions”. Big questions. HUGE questions. Sometimes seemingly naive questions that, though simple to ask, are often bloody hard to answer. Precisely because of that, they can have profound implications for how people and organisations frame and address critical challenges, like sustainability.

One such example I wrote about a while back was the question posed by Marty Neumeier in his book, The Designful Company:

As a thought experiment, imagine a future in which all companies were compelled to take back every product they made. How would that change their behaviour?

It’s a brilliant question because it instantly frames sustainability as a question of core business and culture, rather than old-fashioned corporate philanthropy. And it provides a great window through which to reflect on the innovations of a company like Interface – the design of re-usable materials and the introduction of reverse logistics, for example, that maintain resources in a “closed loop” cycle of manufacturing.

The one limitation of the question, of course, is that it only really relates to the world of products. Thankfully, though, Umair Haque, in his latest post over at HBR, has framed a similarly provocative question that’s equally applicable to service industries too.

What would happen if every CEO had a new clause inserted into his or her gilded contract: you make it, you use it — exclusively?

As Umair says, you’d be willing to bet that if fast food execs could only eat fast food, or if bankers could only invest in their own securities, that would have to lead to some radically different behaviours!


2 thoughts on “In praise of “stupid questions”

  1. Dan Gray Post author

    Ta, KK (you made me chuckle there). Not before time, I’ve learned the value of asking many more questions than I used to. If there’s a space in Court for a Young Pretender, I’ll gladly take up the post!



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