A recent study estimated that the world generated 161 billion gigabytes of digital information last year. That is like 12 separate stacks of books that reach from the Earth to the sun or three million times the information in all the books ever written.
The report sought to account for all the photos, videos, e-mails, web pages, instant messages and other digital content cascading through our world today.
How much memory would be required to contain the above information? You would need two billion 80GB iPods to hold it all!
This leads to a growing realisation that memory is not automatically the best use of our minds in modern education and computers are much better at data management.
How do we focus on the right data, create space when there is too much data and learn to think more effectively?
The real work for each of us is to relearn the art of enquiry. As children, we learned by asking questions.
There is a Chinese proverb that goes: "He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever."
Victorian writer, historian and Bishop of London, Mandell Creighton, once said: "The one real object of education is to have a man in the condition of continually asking questions."
So what does an effective question do?
1. Questions can change our thinking
A consultant was asked to help a group of programmers who were way behind on a $100 million dollar project. He came in and interviewed them all. After much consideration he simply asked one key question.
The question took hold and changed the way the programmers were thinking. The end result was that the project finished on time and was $15 million dollars under budget. The right question changed the thinking of all those involved in the project.
2. Questions create space
A young married woman went to the doctor for help. She asked to be sterilised, as her upbringing had been so painful that she didn't want to have her children experience the same thing.
The doctor asked her: "What would happen if you could make your children's life better and could protect them?"
She thought about it and was stumped. She changed her mind about the operation and now has two beautiful girls that are the joy of her life. The right question created space in her thinking to look at life in a new way.
3. Questions validate people
A college student was stuck. He had tried solving a math problem over and over and he just couldn't get it right. With no small effort, he asked a friend for help.
Although it seems like such a simple example, when someone asks someone else a question, it recognises the need for the other's gifts and expertise and provides an opportunity for people to work together and ultimately succeed.
4. Questions help communication
A couple sat and angrily stared at each other. The counsellor looked at them and hoped to change the focus of their communication towards each other.
After some dialogue, the man realised that he was asking the question, "How do I change my wife?" when what he needed to be asking was: "How can I encourage my wife?"
When he changed this question, he changed the way he communicated, and when the communication changed, the relationship changed.
The wisest use of your mind is not just holding data, but learning how to work with the data, which requires the art of enquiry.
Simply put, we must relearn how to ask questions. As with all arts, it is not an easy task to learn, and requires discipline and practice with a dose of humility.
Yet, it is a worthwhile discipline that seems guaranteed to produce new levels of success for all who dare to ask.