MisterMower wrote on 14 November 2021
Asking dumb questions is so underrated. And entertaining dumb questions is at least as underrated. When you do so, one of two things will happen:

1. Someone who didn't know something obvious now does, and will be better equipped to solve similar problems in the future, armed with new knowledge.

2. Bad assumptions will be challenged, opening up new solutions that may not have been considered initially.

I design manufacturing equipment for an aerospace OEM. Most of the designers I work with spent years in the fabrication shop building our equipment, took a CAD class, and then got promoted to be a designer. I'm one of the few degreed engineers in our group.

Frequently, I find myself in meetings with design and process engineers, trying to figure out a way to build an assembly, or lift and rotate an assembly into the next position on the assembly line, or troubleshoot some quality issue.

Without fail, whenever one of those ex-shop guys are in the meeting, they'll ask a dumb, almost outrageous question. Something like "what if we used a ratchet strap to make the part conform to contour?"

Often times they're not great ideas, but they always open up the scope of solutions and foster some really candid discussion about possibilities that weren't on the table prior to the comment. I always admire their ability to not worry about looking stupid. Sometimes, they'll hit a home run with an idea that no one had even considered.

I find that a lot of degreed engineers (myself included) are afraid of looking dumb in a meeting. We have trouble asking simple questions because we assume everybody else has an answer, or has at least thought through it sufficiently. When I find myself feeling that way, I try to actively ask dumb questions, and I usually find that everyone else was more or less in that same boat.

When you sit down with people and make all of those seemingly obvious assumptions explicit while walking through the problem, I find it really helps illuminate the solution, or at least make the profile of a possible solution much more well defined. And a big part of that process, I find, is asking seemingly dumb but critical questions.

Great post!

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