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There is no such thing as a dumb question

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Did curiosity really kill the cat? Ask Amanda Lang, senior business correspondent for CBC News in Toronto, and she will likely answer with a resounding no.

In a day and age when curiosity is too often equated with either nosiness or ignorance, such an attitude is refreshing.

To Lang, a former Winnipegger, curiosity is a trait as well as a state that can lead to unforeseen achievements both professionally and personally.

In The Power of Why, her first book-length work of non-fiction, Lang considers all that it takes to be an innovator. Surprising and inspiring, the result is a convincing call to action.

Armed with plenty of supporting evidence, Lang explains how channelling our childhood selves by asking question after question can actually help us reap grown-up benefits from fame and fortune to peace of mind.

The capacity for innovation lies within all of us, she insists; some people are just a little more fearless when it comes to taking a logical leap or venturing off the beaten path.

For The Power of Why, Lang interviewed dozens of well-known innovators, including SawStop creator Steve Gass and Toronto's cupcake connoisseur Jean Blacklock.

Whether improving quality of life around the world or making at-home daily battles just a little bit easier, no innovation is too insignificant according to Lang.

Writing with an infectious enthusiasm, Lang extols the virtues of creativity and persistence in addition to curiosity and courage on the road to innovation.

One of her most memorable points is that self-compassion, understanding and learning from mistakes, is much more conducive to eventual success than the alternative.

Why dwell on the past when the future holds so much promise, right? Figure out what went wrong and make the necessary changes even if that means starting over or charting another course. These are the themes Lang revisits throughout The Power of Why, which is semi-autobiographical in the sense that she draws on several of her own experiences throughout the text.

Rather than dismiss her shortcomings as an architecture student at the University of Manitoba as failure, Lang recognizes this experience as an opportunity for innovation. Instead of allowing herself to be defeated in that situation, she learned a lot about herself and used that knowledge to move on to other things.

Despite her strong views on the state of education in today's society, namely the ways in which curiosity is stifled, the lessons Lang imparts are well suited to the learning sphere.

The Power of Why calls to mind journalism superstar Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. Further, its applications are similarly varied. Lang's work could as easily become a required text for a management seminar as it could garner a spot in the self-improvement section of a bookstore.

In other words, The Power of Why is not only for future business leaders or aspiring inventors, but for those who simply wish to become smarter critical thinkers or savvier problem solvers too.

So the next time someone accuses you of asking a dumb question, look him or her straight in the eye and recommend reading The Power of Why. After all, in Lang's view, there really is no such thing.


Jennifer Pawluk is a Petersfield-based writer and proofreader.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 J9


Updated on Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 2:42 PM CDT: adds fact box

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