Whenever I have taken any kind of a class, I am always the “kid” who is raising his hand asking questions. Most people don’t. I think that’s because many people are afraid of asking a dumb question — and, yes, there is such a thing as a dumb question. Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb and who wrote Handel’s Messiah spring to mind.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I have never been afraid to ask questions, even if sometimes I might ask a dumb one. And guess what? There have been many times that other students have thanked me for asking the question that they were afraid to ask.

But there are two questions that took me years to learn to ask, and it turns out they can be very important ones.


Here’s the situation: You are visiting your attorney, your real estate agent, your doctor, your accountant or the local car salesman about some important decision you need to make. You ask all the questions you have, and then you summon your courage and ask a few “dumb” ones, too. And you get the answers.

Now here are the two important questions. One is to ask your expert to explain any answer you don’t understand. If you had the courage to ask that dumb question, summon the courage to say you don’t understand the answer. After all, if you don’t understand the answer, what was the point of asking the question? And I assure you, that won’t make you appear dumber. On the contrary, you will be respected for it (or you should be).

The second question is perhaps even more important. It comes from my experience dealing with professionals of every stripe. Many experts will answer every question you ask them, but they won’t answer the questions you haven’t asked. Nor will they offer the information unsolicited. Strange how that is, but it happens all the time. Your expert may know that there are other considerations that may affect your decision in a particular matter, but they won’t bring it up unless you do. That has always annoyed me greatly.

So what is that all-important second question? It’s this. Try it on your next expert.

“What question(s) should I be asking you that I haven’t been smart enough to ask?”

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at pburri@west.net.