The best conversations are about non-obvious ideas. Whether it be a dinner party, an interview, catching up with an old friend, family outing, etc. We learn more, engage our mind, and are more drawn into conversations about ideas.
Unfortunately, most conversations are about something other than ideas. They might be about others we know (gossip), others we don’t know (celebrities/sports), ourselves, logistics, business talk, etc. And once a conversation moves, it often takes its own path (and often it is a banal and uninteresting path).
I have found that the best way to reinvigorate a conversation is to lob in a TPQ – a Thought Provoking Question.
The goal of the TPQ is to get everyone engaged and thinking about something bigger than the group. Depending on the intellectual firepower of the discussants, your goal should be to come out of the discussion with a new take on a problem, issue, etc.
The best TPQs are ones where there is no obvious answer and, extra bonus, where you don’t feel you know the answer.
Four examples Thought Provoking Questions (TPQs) that you can try:
1. To get people talking and really thinking, one of my favorite questions is:
When is it OK to lie?
This is a very interesting and difficult question. It attacks the core of who we are and people will get to discussing omission, what is the best way to love another (white lie or tell the truth), and more.
2. Peter Thiel’s favorite TPQ is:
What is something you believe that most people you know thinks is crazy?
This is a great question (especially for an interview or a dinner party) because it gets people thinking about how to think for themselves. Encouraging non-conformity is really important in a TPQ.
3. If you are in a really nerdy group of engineers (which is often the group I am a part of), a question I like is:
When will computers beat humans at soccer?
I like this question because it often starts people thinking and takes the conversation to a new level.
4. If you are with entrepreneurs, you can borrow a question my friend Dan Rosenthal recently asked at a dinner party:
Do you think Steve Jobs would have been as successful if he was a nice person?
There is obviously no right answer and it gets people talking about management styles, creativity, passion, and being good to others.
What are some TPQs that have worked for you?