“There is no such thing as a stupid question”

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Many years ago in the early 90s I was fortunate enough to join a company that changed my life. That company was Medtronic; a company that I had never heard of before attending an interview there. The interview itself took place as a result of a chance meeting, but I will save that story for another day. Medtronic at that time was under the dynamic leadership of Bill George and was undergoing a major phase of growth and business innovation. It was a great organisation to be part of with some amazing people to learn from.

Shortly after joining, I experienced the most intense and brilliant training I have ever known before or since. This intensive training was essential, as a core part of my role was to support implants of implantable defibrillators. The details of such implants are probably only really understood by those that have been in the cathlab when such an implant takes place, but, suffice it to say, it was at the time a highly unusual procedure. It is however today seen as relatively routine.

The training started as one-on-one, focussing on electrophysiological theory and then detection algorithms and therapy delivery. All of which was pretty intense stuff. Most of my European colleagues at the time  had PhDs or Masters degrees in biomedical engineering. My own educational background was somewhat less applied to the job in hand!

The trainer that was most responsible for that training was a Dutch gentleman named Peter Van Ingen. I hope he will not mind me naming him, and I imagine he is retired now. He was simply the best trainer/teacher I have ever had in my life. His ability to deconstruct very complex subjects and make them understandable was quite amazing. I have often thought that if the world’s schools and universities were full of Peter Van Ingens the world would be a far better educated place! The skill to teach complex subjects in a patient and thoughtful way that is adapted to the pace of the student is one of the greatest gifts.

Like many teachers, Peter had a favourite saying that he repeated regularly, and I suspect he said the same to other people. I can even hear it in my head now in his Dutch accent over a quarter of a century later; “ there is no such thing as a stupid question”. He explained that if I asked even the most basic of questions he would not judge that or say “what, you don’t know that?”, as essentially if I felt in the slightest inhibited to ask an important question that might mean I had a gap in my knowledge that could potential prove fatal. He felt it was his responsibility to ensure there were no gaps in my knowledge.

I have often thought about this wonderful saying, and the reason behind it in the years since, and worked hard at applying its principles in my business life and personal. It is a great one to apply when bringing up kids if you want them to have enquiring minds, though it requires resilience when they go through the “why?” stage!

Training and education are essential tools for anyone that wants to get on. The ability to take on board information, but also to communicate it are key indicators of High Performance Talent. In my soon to be published “Hiring the Ultimate Sales Person” I discuss how high performers like to learn.

Great leaders are good listeners. If you make people aware that you are open to all questions you will be amazed at the creativity it produces.  


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