I just watched a great story on television told by the famous architect, Frank Gehry, who penned a note to his younger self. He talks about always being curious, and about taking risks. And judging from his masterful designs of some of the world's most iconic buildings, he knows what he's talking about.
When I was in grammar school, and even in high school, I very rarely asked questions in class. You remember when the teacher would ask the class if anyone had a question the homework assignment? Even if I did had a question, I would never raise my hand. Maybe I was scared to be embarrassed, that the teacher would think, "What a dumb question to ask." In any case, I kept mum, hoping that I got the instructions right.
Later on, when I decided in my late 20s to go back to school and get my Bachelors degree, it was a different story. I don't know how it started, but I found myself always being the one person who DID ask questions in class. Part of that I think was because I didn't have a clue about what the homework assignment and I wanted to get clarification, and well, good grades mattered to me. The other part I think was about my not really caring what other people thought or said. I wanted to get it right and if it meant asking questions, well, I asked. And you know what happened? Classmates would come up to me after class and say things like, "Thank God you asked that question, because I had the same question, too," or "Thanks for asking that question--I didn't want to be the one to ask the same one."
Through it all, something that started out as merely asking questions for clarification evolved into just asking questions, or maybe more about questioning things, not taking things at face value. Somehow this new found desire to better understand what I was learning grew to be a curiosity about a lot of things. It also made me feel more confident. Imagine that: curiosity and confidence.
Case in point: A while ago, I was attending a public safety meeting hosted by the city's business association and guest speakers included the local councilwoman and the chief of police. The purpose of the meeting was to get feedback from residents and others in the community (including business owners) about the public safety issue downtown, specifically concerning the homeless and people loitering in and around local shops and restaurants.
It was clear to me that the councilwoman had a more compassionate view about the homeless issue, deflecting any concerns about its impact on local residents (like myself at the time). Well, that was enough for me. As far as I knew, she didn't ride her bicycle on along the trail where on any given day (especially in the warmer months), you would see someone on the side of the path, shooting up drugs, or blocking the trail all together. I was furious. So I stood up and said so. And I suggested that maybe if she knew what local residents were experiencing firsthand with the homeless population she would feel differently and want to help do something about the problem. I also asked if she wouldn't mind if we gave her address to the homeless people on the trail so that they could camp out in front of her building, or that she could invite them in for dinner and a hot shower. She stumbled and garbled her response, looking absolutely flustered and uncomfortable. I got my message across, that was the most important thing to me. I took the risk in voicing my opinion, but heck, sometimes you just have to take that risk.
Over time, I've taken this same level of curiosity and made it a big part of how I do my job in public relations. You have to be curious. How else can we provide outstanding service to organizations, our clients? You have to ask questions. Lots of questions. Oftentimes, asking questions can be risky, because you never know the answer you'll get, right? It's a way to get clients to really think about what they want. More importantly, to reel in their expectations to be more realistic and practical.
I do this with clients all the time. I probe. I ask questions. Then we can really get to the heart of the matter.
Thanks, Mr. Gehry, for reminding me to always be curious, take risks. Note to my younger self: "For inspiration, look at Frank Gehry."