What Would You Do if You Could Learn Almost Anything You Wanted To?

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Somewhere in the world, there exists a person who could objectively and legitimately be called The Smartest Person on Earth.

Maybe she’s a Nobel Laureate in the field of astrophysics.

Maybe he’s the global thought leader in the development of artificial intelligence.

I don’t know.

But what if I told you that—no matter your education level or particular area of expertise—you are capable of knowing and understanding almost everything that the Smartest People on Earth know and understand?

Why Does This Matter?

Good question.

  1. I’m being fast and loose with the word ‘smart.’
  2. I think ‘smart’ people are best-equipped to have good relationships and live good lives and make a positive impact on the world.
  3. I want you to know that you’re smart, and then use that smartness to improve your relationships because THAT and your personal health are the two most important influencers on how good or how shitty your life feels every day.

There are different kinds of smart. Is the high school dropout who can’t identify Italy on a world map, but who CAN masterfully build a performance car engine or race vehicle suspension, someone you’d consider to be dumb?

What about the genius music prodigy who can compose an original piece anytime you ask her to, but who knows squat about finance or history or pop culture or engineering or sports or computer software?

Is she smart for being a genius at one thing, or dumb for being an ignoramus about thousands of things?

We get sucked into a trap sometimes of associating advanced degrees and good vocabularies with intelligence. People ALWAYS think I’m smarter than I am because I can string words together, both writing and speaking.

And then they think some guy wearing a trucker hat and speaking with a southern American accent is some idiot hillbilly, even if that guy is a master mechanic, or a brilliant farmer, or whatever.

EVERYONE has something that they are masters of. Something they’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours doing. They’re experts, even if they don’t recognize it themselves, and even if it’s an activity not currently earning them a paycheck.

Everyone is smart. It’s just that many of us are biased to label certain types of intelligence or skill as ‘smart’ because we value those things more than all the other versions out there, so we accidentally treat everyone NOT living in that bubble like they’re assholes, which makes us assholes.

It’s a vicious cycle of assholery.

The Power of Asking a More Beautiful Question

Despite the truth that EVERYONE is their own version of smart whether we, or they themselves, recognize it, for the purposes of this exercise, let’s think of ‘smart’ as meaning “most knowledgeable.”

What is the difference between The Smartest Person on Earth—the person who knows the most out of everyone in the world—and someone willing to ask the right question?

If the Smartest Person on Earth knows and remembers more things than you, but you can find all of those same answers by asking Google, or an expert, or reading a book, or going to experience something for yourself—is there really a difference? If you’re coming to the same answers?

I mean, The Smartest Person on Earth will mop the floor with us on Jeopardy!, but do I REALLY care that they memorized some fact, or read some book that I can look up in 30 seconds on my phone, or have that same book on my doorstep in 48 hours?

Mental aptitude is a thing. Some people’s brains work faster and differently in ways various academics might label as ‘better.’ I accept that.

I just want to hammer home the idea that EVERYONE can know and understand ANYTHING they want with just one skill.

Just one little skill.

And that is: Asking good questions to the right people, and using effective tools to gather knowledge and information.

Someone committed to THAT is unstoppable.

At school.

At work.

In life—and that includes at home in our relationships.

If You Ask Your Relationship Partner Good Questions (and Receive Honest Answers), What CAN’T You Accomplish Together?

Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, and contributor to The New York Times and Psychology Today, might be the world’s leading authority on the art and science of asking questions.

Berger reached out to me last year to get my take on questions relationship partners could or should be asking for his new book releasing in late October called The Book of Beautiful Questions.

I have no idea whether my feedback actually made it into the book, but I secretly hope it did because there’s a better-than-average chance it’s the only New York Times Bestseller my name will ever be attached to.

But what really matters is the IDEA about asking questions. This insanely powerful idea that you have everything you need to stay connected to, or reconnect with your spouse or relationship partner.

There is mountains of research backed by decades of data science that can help you understand what does, and what does not positively affect relationships.

There are brilliant thinkers who have built amazing guides to help you better understand yourself and your spouse or partner.

And then there is the actual person sitting on the other side of the dinner table, sitting next to you on the couch, lying down next to you in bed.

What questions could you ask them in order to better understand what you could do to help strengthen your marriage/relationship?

“By asking questions, we learn, analyze, understand—and can move forward in the face of uncertainty. When confronted with almost any demanding situation, in work or life, the act of questioning can help guide us to smart decisions and a sensible course of action. But the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of a complex challenge, or that enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way,” Berger wrote in an article about his upcoming book.

Much like how the things that actually end our marriages seem too minor, too ‘silly,’ too insignificant to actually be the cause of our divorce or breakup, this idea about asking questions might seem too simple to be the key to overcoming many of your life’s biggest stressors and obstacles—at home, at work, financially, emotionally—whatever.

Ask the right question to the right person.

Ask the right question in your favorite search engine.

And then the right answers will emerge.

Beautiful questions yield beautiful answers.

And, just maybe, beautiful answers yield more beautiful lives.

22 thoughts on “What Would You Do if You Could Learn Almost Anything You Wanted To?”

  1. “If You Ask Your Relationship Partner Good Questions (and Receive Honest Answers), What CAN’T You Accomplish Together?”

    That would be a good start, but knowing the answers, even to good questions, doesn’t mean you can find workable solutions. And, even knowing the solutions, doesn’t mean you will be able to implement them. And, even if you implement them, people change and, lacking the commitment to persevere, you still have failure.

    So, if the above happens, you CAN accomplish much, but it doesn’t mean you will, although it is better than most alternatives.

    1. Yes.

      I believe most people lack the pertinent information to behave according to what will have the best overall results in their relationship.

      I believe most people have biases, assumptions, and simply don’t know things they should. The power of good question asking can’t be overstated.

      1. “The power of good question asking can’t be overstated.”

        Nor can the importance of honest answers, because it requires both parties making concerted effort to move towards a better relationship.

      2. The power of listening to the answers without a “yes, but” forming in your mind is the necessary other half of asking the beautiful questions. The beautiful question, by its nature, brings us answers that can threaten every bias and assumption we have. Unless the work begins there, it is just an interesting thought exercise.

    2. Arguably more important than asking the right question is listening – truly listening – the answer. I think really they’re equally important pieces of the communication puzzle.

  2. Its been 30 some years of thinking I need to control a relationship rather then just be in control of my own life. I have learned that being alone is not better; and if I dont want to be alone; I need to learn how to love someone while accepting them for exactly who they are. Loving the good and the bad. None of us are without flaws!

    1. I wrote him a book of an email.

      I can send it to you. It’s entirely too long to post here, and frankly, since some of it is likely in a yet-to-be-published book, might even be a little inappropriate.

      Warren asked me questions, and I answered them in my less-than-brief way that I do.

      Within some of those answers lie questions. But it was never me offering specific questions to Warren that I believe couples should be asking one another.

      Check your email. I’ll just forward it to you. 🙂

  3. You are right that being “smart” is quite culturally and situationally dependent.

    I think emotional intelligence is vastly underrated in our culture. Being skilled at handling your own emotional responses and how to maturely deal with other people. People who may freak you out emotionally if you can’t handle people who have vastly different views or want things that are threatening to your comfort.

    Emotional intelligence has been shown to be important to be a good leader. Definitely important to be in a good relationship.

  4. Curiosity is an important part of emotional intelligence.

    It fosters intimacy. You see and are curious about this person who you recognize is different than you are. What is it like inside their brain? What kind of experiences have they had? How does that change how they see things?

    “When you show curiosity and you ask questions, and find out something interesting about another person, people disclose more, share more, and they return the favor, asking questions of you,” says Kashdan. “It sets up a spiral of give and take, which fosters intimacy.”


    1. It sets up a spiral of give and take, which fosters intimacy.

      My own experience causes me to think this concept is generally true rather than absolutely true. I think it would be far more correct to say “It may well lead to further give and take, which fosters intimacy.”

      As an extreme example, suppose you are waiting in line somewhere and you ask the stranger next to you if they do X (where X is something of a quite personal nature). Rather than encouraging intimacy, this will likely discourage intimacy.

      So curiosity must be tempered with some other aspect of emotional intelligence. But even then, people have their own boundaries determining the level of intimacy they will allow.

      1. Absolutely agree with you that this concept is generally true rather than absolutely true.

        I agree good emotional intelligence is required to know what is a polite curious exchange vs boundary violating rudeness. It’s different by culture. I read an article recently that compared the expected impersonal pleasantries in the UK vs either ignore or discuss ones personal life more common in the US.

        Of course, this varies by region and family and individual personality etc. I’m a “say hello and that’s it wait in line person” my mom is a “love to hear your life story” person.

        The emotional intelligence is figuring out the general cultural norms and then being able to observe and adjust based on the verbal and non verbal feedback.

        read it as “sets it up” as not a guarantee since as you said it requires other things to be there as well for both people to engage in a curious stance and not a combative one.

        It is harder when one person wants to engage from a curious place and the other is closed or wants to argue rather than exchange ideas.

        I’ve been on both sides of that?


  5. I can report that when I have been emotionally UNintelligent one of the first things to go is curiosity.

    I am not really interested in asking curious questions about the other person’s point of view. I am interested in defending myself.

    Asking questions to debate to find errors in the other side does not invite intimacy but invites defensiveness.

    I am so often guilty of that one. I never could get why it didn’t provide more consensus (ha ha no emotional intelligence there). Instead it just gets into a back and forth argument over whose point of view is “right.”

  6. If I could really learn anything in the world….I’d choose to learn excellent internal and external boundaries. 🙂

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Matt Fray

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