Malcolm Gladwell on His Dad Asking Dumb Questions

Posted on Aug 10, 2020

The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Malcolm Gladwell (#168) > My dad is a great question asker. And my father has this, and I’ve spoken about it many times, of his many gifts, one in particular, as a kid, always had the biggest impact on me, which is my father has zero intellectual insecurities. So this is the only thing he has in common with Obama. He and Obama are the same way. It has never crossed his mind to be concerned that the world thinks he’s an idiot. He’s not in that game. So if he doesn’t understand something, he just asks you. He doesn’t care if he sounds foolish. He will ask the most obvious question. And it was without any sort of concern about it.

And maybe it’s because my dad is a mathematician. So he has this thing that he knows he’s really good at. And so he’s home free. If you have a PhD in math, you’re home free. … Yeah. And it’s like if you look like an idiot because you don’t know anything about basketball, who cares? So he asks lots and lots and lots of dumb, in the best sense of that word, dumb questions. He’ll say to someone I don’t understand. Explain that to me. And he’ll just keep asking questions until he gets it right. And I grew up listening to him do this in every conceivable setting. My father, here is this guy with his PhD in math. He made friends with all of these farmers who were our neighbors who were all drop outs.

I can’t remember where I heard about this quote (not from Tim’s podcast) but I’ve been trying to apply it. Ask questions “Do you mean… Sorry I don’t understand.” I’ll report back on the results.

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