Whoever said “there are no stupid questions, just stupid people” was stupid. There are many, many stupid questions…and you better be asking them if you want your business to succeed.
I’ve learned a lot about the value of stupid questions in the last month in my role as City Manager at StartupCity Des Moines because I’m usually the one asking them. As a non-techie working in an über techie world, I almost always feel stupid. I don’t understand much of what I hear around me. Back-end utility? Gooey (um, I mean GUI?)? SEM? It’s all Greek to me. I know I’m ignorant and, as such, I’m not afraid to ask the questions that others who are supposed to know this stuff may not have the guts to ask.
Last week, I asked one of our startups why a button on his mobile app was green. Stupid question but it helped identify a problem that other ordinary, non-techie users might have. Yesterday, an applicant stopped by the offices to pitch his startup. I didn’t understand the technology behind the idea but I asked some stupid questions about why his target market (women) would want to use the site, and he left needing to rethink his approach.
Stupid questions can uncover some really important information. The people using your product or service don’t share your encyclopedic knowledge about it, nor do they have the same IQ as you. But their experiences are as valuable—actually, they are more valuable—than yours. If they don’t understand and love what you have to offer, then you have nothing to sell.
To uncover the stupid questions—and then make needed changes to address them—you need to look outside of yourself. Get in front of as many people as possible, even those you don’t consider a target market. Sometimes the stupidest (and best) questions come from the unlikeliest sources. Let everyone play with your product, if you have one, or describe what you are doing and how. Then give them permission to ask you anything.
Listening without judgment is key here. Remember, these are probably going to sound like stupid questions to you but there is something to be learned if only you curb your instinct to explain, justify, rationalize, and roll your eyes. Take notes on everything you hear, even if it seems totally silly to you, and watch for trends. If more than one person asks the same stupid question, it’s probably not so stupid after all.
By now you are probably thinking, “she’s just describing a focus group.” That’s true, it just happens to be a more organic, valuable, and cheaper DIY version. Long before you can afford to hire a big marketing firm to organize a formal roundtable of targeted users, you can empower yourself to improve your product using useful data from real-world users.
So the next time you find yourself saying, “that’s a stupid question,” stop and explore whether it might actually be an opportunity to improve.