#NotSoOrdinary: Lessons from Euripides & conspiracy theorists
by Taazima Kala-Essack (@taazimakala) The ancient Greek tragedian, Euripides, famously said, “Question everything.” In other words, accept nothing without due reason. Why? Well, why not?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m no conspiracy theorist but even I’d be hard pressed to admit that, with all the covid-19 conspiracy theories flying around, I don’t find myself intrigued. However, this intrigue is less about entertaining the belief that nations are enacting a game of proverbial battleship with a pandemic, or buying into the idea that the mess we find ourselves in is a wholly orchestrated one, and more about the one thing the conspiracy theorists around us do so undeniably well: question everything.
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In a world that’s so obsessed with always having answers and solutions (“5 ways to enhance your relationship”, “Top tips to do better at your job” etc), why are we so quick to leap to accepting and answering when we don’t even ask the requisite questions?
I’m not about to offer up an answer to this very question, mind you. This is more about the business of asking why we don’t ask enough questions, and the inherent potential for success we overlook as a result.
Everyone can and should be a questionologist (a made-up word attributable to Warren Berger, who writes wonderfully on beautiful questions). Question everything. Why are some things still being done in the same age-old ways? Why does someone get selected for a promotion over you when you are equally qualified? Why do some people respond better to certain personalities than others? Why do we often do what’s told when we know full well there are too many puzzle pieces missing to make it worthwhile at the time? Question everything.
Inventors and scientists
All the greatest inventors and scientists, past and present, asked questions. Isaac Newton asked, ‘Why does an apple fall from a tree?’ Charles Darwin asked, ‘Why does the moon not fall into the Earth?’ Albert Einstein asked, ‘What would the universe look like if I rode through it on a beam of light?’ Again, I say, question everything.
Questioning does not come from a point of doubt or uncertainty. Far from it, for questioning the status quo may breed creativity, innovation and learning. Studies have shown that four-year-olds ask as many as 200 to 300 questions per day, and it’s through their incessant question-asking that they learn. Questioning is the art of learning.
The power of asking questions can’t be overemphasised. Quizzical, inquisitive minds do well to better understand the world and look at things just a bit differently. Brands that do the same often stand apart from others because they find new and uncharted ways within their exploration of the unknown. They question what’s out there and why. They ask the easy questions, as well as the tough ones, and they constantly seek new facets of what they’re told.
Time of great change
In this time of great change, we need to create a much more radical future and the status quo isn’t how we will achieve that.
Take mavericks such as Virgin and Red Bull, for example, which throw caution to the wind daily. They question the norm in favour of the new and the different. And look at how well this works for them! We see fun, playful, downright clever things from these brands and very seldom can anything they develop be labeled boring or “meh”. I like to think their marketing and communications teams likely comprise renegades who refuse to simply be instruction-takers, who choose to question the whys and the hows to the point where the end result is like no other. They must be a bunch of questionologists.
There’s a clear purpose, however, rather than simply asking questions for questions’ sake. “Questions are such powerful tools that they can be beneficial — perhaps particularly so — in circumstances when question asking goes against social norms,” note Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K John in a 2018 piece for Harvard Business Review. Skillfully asking questions, the duo posit, can unlock learning and even improve interpersonal bonding or help build rapport. Further, Joan Cheverie in The Professional Development Commons even goes as far as noting: “Improved ‘questioning’ can strengthen managerial effectiveness.” Some of the best leaders today are known to be avid questioners as well as listeners.
The clear paradox exists in that, if we do not ask the right questions, how do we arrive at the right solutions? Perhaps, just maybe, if we start to become greater questionologists, we may see a new generation of leaders, thinkers, visionaries, luminaries and more. A generation that flips everything on its head and changes the game entirely.
The key is to begin by simply asking more questions, and you will learn to ask better questions, and even the right questions. Remember your manners, your tone, and your timing. Let your questions be informed by the context, and let them provoke, inspire and, in some cases, even give shock value. Where appropriate, ask questions the other person will enjoy answering. Be consumed by the need to learn, grow, and thrive by simply allowing curiosity and a hunger for further understanding and lateral thinking.
So, thank you for the lesson, conspiracy theorists: Question everything. I certainly will and, if reading this has done anything for you, I hope it’s that it’s awakened a near insatiable curiosity within you.
- Columns | #NotSoOrdinary – Taazima Kala-Essak
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Taazima Kala-Essack (@taazimakala) is lead consultant at Botswana’s oldest and largest PR consultancy and FCB Wired affiliate, Hotwire PRC. She draws inspiration for her regular Marklives.com column from her observations of brands and how and what they communicate. She has a firm “question everything” philosophy, believes in challenging the status quo and celebrating the #NotSoOrdinary.
This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.