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Cartoon of alien advising President Obama; slogan: question everything

Question Everything - Really

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Question everything. Really. That's all you need to get from this article. So, if you are in a hurry, please like it, share it and get on with whatever keeps you busy. But if you have a moment, allow me to explain why questioning everything is essential to creativity, critical to innovation and a really, really good thing to do in general.

Unsubstantiated

Recently, a friend, whose judgment I used to respect more than I do now, shared via Facebook a blog post on the characteristics of creative people. I read the post and, like so many similarly titled works, it was a list of positive characteristics that presumably described an idealised version of the author. However, it lacked any references, sources or logical arguments to support any of the listed creative characteristics. Nevertheless, the author is a clever duck; the alleged characteristics were highly generalised and positive. I would assume that many people read the blog post, identified with the characteristics and said, "hey, that sounds like me! I must be creative." Many of the readers liked and shared the post on Facebook.

Ironically, one of the characteristics described in the post was that "Creative people are always questioning things." Presumably, the author actually meant "Creative people are always questioning things besides the veracity of my blog post." I was irritated. For better or worse, I descended into the vile and ugly world of blog commenting and wrote something like, "This post is typical of such posts, it is completely unverified, lacks sources, has no references and does not even provide logical arguments for its assertions." Not surprisingly, a number of people were highly critical of my comments which is understandable. By questioning the article, I was questioning their creativity. However, they were clearly not questioning the blog post at all.

That is a mistake. Failing to question things has consequences as the British are quickly discovering.

Consequences

In June 2016, the British voted in a referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union. Politicians promoting Brexit (British Exit), claimed that leaving the EU would make the UK a more prosperous, freer place that would be free of immigrants, much whiter and regain much of its lost but vaguely defined glory. Those politicians promisted that the 350 million per week that the UK is been paying into the EU could be poured into the National Health Service (NHS) instead. The pro-Brexit campaign was strong on feelings and short on fact. Sadly, this was sufficient to convince 52% of the population.

In the month since the referendum, Britain's economy has suffered, the stock exchange has experienced substantial losses and the Pound has lost some 30% of its value against the dollar. Meanwhile, the country is no whiter, has regained no lost glory (indeed, if anything, it has become something of a laughing stock) and those promoting Brexit have admitted that they cannot actually pour any money into the NHS. There are still immigrants living in the country.

In short, because many voters failed to question not only the pro-Brexit campaign promises, but what Brexit actually implied, the British economy is screwed, the EU economy is in a bad way and even the global economy has suffered. Indeed, it was only after the vote, when the news reported that the pound and the stockmarket were both in free-fall, that many people started to question what Britain's relationship was all about.

Sadly, many of those voters will suffer financially, with wages expected to be reduced by 2.8-4% according the the British Treasury.

This is what happens when you question nothing.

Wrong Side of Disruptive Innovation

Failure to question everything, or even many things, is bad within organisations too.

Victims of disruptive innovation are typically victims because they have fail to question their own products, the disruptive innovations that threaten those products or what their customers actually want from their products. Digital photography is a great example. Not long ago, the big photography companies assumed customers wanted high resolution prints and failed to question how customers used images, the potential for digital photography in the future and the potential value of printed images in a digital world. Failing to ask these questions has led to the bankruptcy of many once industrial leaders such as Kodak and Polaroid.

Social Media Likes ≠ Veracity

The need to question everything has become much, much greater in recent years, in part because questioning things used to done by journalists − and still is; the problem is that much of what we read today is no longer being written by journalists or even people who follow the ethics of journalism.

Reputable journalists and the publications they work for demand that everything that is published as fact is suitably verified. If only one person claims something is true, it must be made clear that her statement is unverified. If an ethical journalist interviews a Whitehouse worker, who claims that President Obama is being advised by aliens from a planet orbiting 51 Pegasi b, that reporter is obliged to seek corroboration or, at most, could only publish the story as an unverified claim by a single Whitehouse staffer. In other words, journalists questioned things and what was published was assumed to have been questioned and verified.

Today, however, most blogs would happily publish such a post on the thinnest of evidence. Most blogs do not bother with verification. Anything that will get clicks is published and promoted, even by so-called news blogs. Moreover, these blog posts tend to be promoted on social media which, if they gain enough likes and shares, are assumed to be true.

However, you and I know that Facebook likes are not the same thing as veracity. Sadly, far too many other people fail to get this simple observation. According to Politifact.com, a Pulitzer Prize winning fact checking organisation,  47% of the memes on Facebook are false..

Since a social media meme is an idea that spreads like a virus on social media, this implies that people are liking, sharing and very likely believing ideas that are false on a truly massive scale. It also means that few people are questioning these memes.

Sadly, the extent to which I see unsubstantiated claims being presented in social media as fact supports Politifact's findings.

Without Questions There Is No Creativity

Without questions, there is no creativity. Creative thinking is not about blindly and unquestioningly following what others say. It is about saying, "what if that statement is not true? What does that imply? What are the alternatives? How might I change things?" Being creative is being curious and being curious means you do not accept every piece of alleged information you see. You question things. You question everything.

In the Corporate World

In the corporate world, this means questioning assumptions in your industry. It means questioning your customers' motivations, desires and needs. It means questioning new businesses and asking, "could this affect us and, if so, how?" It means asking how new technology might affect your company and how you might exploit it. It means questioning whether the latest trend you read about in some blog post is true or the figment of the writer's imagination. And, if it is true, what implications might it have on your business? If it false, what does that imply?

In the Real World

Outside of the corporate world, you should also question everything. Brexit has shown us the danger of accepting unquestioningly the claims of politicians with selfish agendas. Extremist political parties around the world are also making unsubstantiated and largely false claims about the dangers of immigrants, Muslims and International trade. Without questioning them and encouraging others to do the same, we are in danger of finding ourselves in a paranoid world in which we close ourselves off from each other, fail to question authority and find safety in protectionism rather than relish the risk of innovation.

So, my friend, please question everything including this article and everything I have written. Question everything.

 

Want to Discuss This With Me?

If so, get in touch. I'd love to chat about it with you!



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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium

R103/20160727