Natural Learning – Part 2: The Separate Dynamic: the power in the questions we ask

Share our post:


A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.


Article One introduced a learning dynamic called ‘Separate and Combine’. We will now look in more detail at the ‘separate’ element.

The term GIGO—Garbage In Garbage Out—has been used for years in the world of computers. Although this term is not as widespread as it was, I feel it is even more important as the rate of change in technology increases and continues to become even more essential to how we get through the day. Apple’s idea of the average person having a computer in their pocket disguised as a mobile phone has become a reality for most of us, myself included. As there is little chance of science going backwards, we might as well find a way to discern the huge amounts of increasing information almost instantly available at our fingertips.

GIGO—Garbage In Garbage Out

GIGO may be a bit black and white, but it is still useful. We know, for example, that a Google search has no qualms in giving you what you ask for and it is completely literal. I have just completed a search on the term GIGO and got back the response… ‘About 3,760,000 results (0.56 seconds)’.

The human subconscious mind is a form of search engine that’s very similar to Google: it can only provide a high quality answer if a high quality question has been asked.

There are a number of ways that we can improve the quality of the questions we ask. Firstly however, let’s counter-intuitively take some learning from the world of technology, specifically on how to handle technology without getting caught up in it.

The Apple iPad introduction was a pivotal moment for bridging the gap between personal computers and smart phones. This is probably pretty obvious to you. What may be less obvious is how Apple handled the challenge they faced; how could they create a sense of greater simplicity, reliability and usability when they were applying and integrating ever-increasing new technologies? For example, they wanted as few moving parts as possible so they moved to touch screens. Also, they wanted a display that a 5-year-old would intuitively be able to learn how to use without needing instruction from an adult. Well-designed icons provided this by tapping into the idea of ‘more pictures, fewer words’.

What has this to do with the questions we ask you might wonder? Well that is a great question if you don’t mind me saying.

Apple’s example teaches us that high quality questions essentially have a direction towards simplicity. From a marketing perspective it could be phrased as ‘simplicity sells’.


An alternative…

I think we should still keep the GIGO acronym but change ‘garbage’ for a more positive word. I like to use ‘great’ but of course feel free to use whatever works best for you.

The quality of the questions we ask determines the quality of the answers we receive. In fact, we could push this even further and say that:

The quality of a person’s life is directly proportional to the quality of the questions they ask.



The Goldilocks approach…

I like using examples so here is one from my early school years. I really struggled with maths and would often ask myself ‘why am I rubbish at maths?’ in the hope that it would somehow assist me. It is obvious to me now that this was a great way to make the subject even harder as my mind had to answer the question and would come up with all kinds of justifications which reinforced my low opinion of myself in this respect.

Purely by chance I heard a talk by a teacher who used Goldilocks and the Three Bears to explain something about learning. For those of you that don’t know the children’s story, Goldilocks (due to her blonde curly hair) stumbles upon the house when the daddy, mummy and baby bear are out in the woods.

The Goldilocks approach…

In desperate need of food and shelter she ventures into the house and tests out various options. One of these is the firmness of the beds before she takes a well-needed sleep. She discovers one bed that is too hard, one that is too soft and finally one that is just the right firmness for her to have a nap. No prizes for guessing which bed belonged to which bear.

The teacher explained that all problems (including those maths problems) are made up of sizes. Maths problems for example are always additions or subtractions at their fundamental level. The trick is to break the more complex problems down into the right size where it can be tackled.

This simple analogy provided a fresh way for me to look at my maths ability. The question in my mind had been transformed to ‘how do I break this sum or equation down to make it simpler?’ Not only did it allow me to improve my ability then but in later years I completed a degree in engineering where this question was just as applicable as the day I first heard it.

The trick is to break the more complex problems down into the right size where it can be tackled.


Natural Learning…

The wise teacher in the above scenario taught me that the greatest gift an educator can give is to assist people in asking great questions of themselves and others—Great In Great Out (GIGO).

It could also be said therefore that ‘Unnatural Learning’ is where you ask a Garbage question and expect the universe to bring you a Great answer. That simply ain’t ever gonna happen!

Now think back to Article One and the problem that is proving to be a sticking point in your own life. With what we have additionally covered in Article Two:

  • Could you reduce it in size somehow so that it’s more accessible for your mind?
  • Could you ask a Great In Great Out (GIGO) question that could shift the situation from the problem category to the obstacle category, or an obstacle to a challenge?

Just a thought!


Summary points:

  • The human mind can equally provide us with answers that can be described as ‘great’ or as ‘garbage’.
  • The world of increasing technology counter-intuitively has simplicity at the core of its intent.
  • Natural Learning is the natural outcome of asking high quality (great) questions.
Share our post: