The Need to Ask Stupid Questions

We have all heard the phrase "there are no stupid questions". Why do people say that? More importantly when do we most likely hear someone say that? The answer to the second question is simple. People say "there is no stupid questions" during meetings when trying to get the audience to ask questions.  They also say that in group discussions when they are trying to break people's conceptions of the "stupid" and "smart" questions. Both want for it to lead to a discussion on ideas and get people to be creative. Which leads to the other often used phrase, "There are no stupid ideas".
But that is for another time. Let's look at how you can harness this to find possible solutions for your problem. This is done usually at Step3. You have admitted to having a problem and committed to finding a solution. You know what your problem is and what the goal of the solution is because you have told the group or someone else about it. Now it's time for ideas. And often you just don't have any. This is where the phrase "there are no stupid questions" comes in.
There are several ways to look at stupid questions and how they can help you find solutions. You can also use it to discount options or possible solutions to the problem later down the stage. Here are some uses for using or asking "stupid questions":

  • First - You have to ask the stupid question to get at the smart answer. Stupid questions are correctly answered by smart answers. If people give you stupid answers, don't worry because it only shows their ignorance and you know where those people stand on solving the problem. Getting a smartypants answer will also only reflect on that person, so don't get upset and move on. Keep looking for the smart answer because it is the right one. It could be the answer that everybody claims to know but reluctant to say out loud. And in a group setting, that may not be clear to everyone especially those that simply don't know. So having the smart answer being said ensures everybody understands why the question is thought of as a stupid one. Don't be surprised to find that people sometimes don't have the right answer as to the why part. 
  • Second - Stupid questions generate communication. The ability to answer a stupid question gives you an insight into that person's thinking, even if it is your own. For starters, refer to what was mentioned above about how the type of answers reflects the person answering. Secondly, an incorrect answer to a stupid question may expose a gap in understanding of the question and possibly, the problem. This would help you identify people with this different understanding. Try to understand their point of view by discussing it with them. It could just be that they are approaching the problem from another angle and from their perspective, their answers are correct. Make your case by providing clear and simple arguments to them, asking them to see things from your point of view.
  • Third - Stupid questions test the boundaries of the subject of the problem. Normally, assumptions are made and this creates perceptions around the problem. Stupid questions forces us to answer and re-evaluate those assumptions and perceptions. Answering them only increases your understanding. The real question is, do you understand enough about the problem or the solution for you to give an good answer. Does the stupid question define the limits of the problem or limiting your options for a solution? 
  • Fourth - Stupid questions stimulate creativity. The nature of a stupid question could just be that, a stupid or impossible premise. But instead of dismissing it, consider the fantastical situation that would be required for it to be possible or for it to be not stupid but plausible. Consider questions that were once thought of as stupid. Like "Can man go to the moon?" or "Is it possible to go faster than the speed of sound?" The answer to those questions have led to ideas and solutions that led to more ideas and solutions. Not bad for a stupid question.