Honored Alumni Lecture: Marguerite Gong Hancock on the Art of Questioning

At the annual Honored Alumni Lecture, Marguerite Gong Hancock, executive director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, presented a lecture entitled “From Tolstoy to Siri: How Questions Shape our Lives,” discussing the importance of meaningful questions in the age of information.

1510-17 073 1510-17 Humanities Alumni Lecture Marguerite Gong Hancock Photography by: Savanna Sorensen/BYU Photo © BYU Photo 2015 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322

PROVO, Utah (Oct. 8, 2015)—In an age where Google is so advanced that it can fill out our questions before we have even finished typing them, are we taking time to ask the right questions?

At the Alumni Achievement Award Lecture, humanities and Asian studies graduate Marguerite Gong Hancock asked how individuals might ask better, more innovative questions with the technology available to them.

Hancock, who led programs at Stanford for 20 years, has worked tirelessly to empower communities of innovators and entrepreneurs. Now the founding executive director at the Center on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, Hancock continues to devote her life to inspiring innovative questioning.

Hancock said that it is important to ask what questions govern our lives. “Questions determine what we look at, how we perceive the world, how we interpret it, what we know, what we do, and who we become,” she said.

She added that because we live in a time where there is so much information available, the questions are what are increasing in value, not the answers.

Hancock explained that even Google is so advanced now that it can fill out a question before an individual is done typing it in the search bar. “It’s an amazing thing that our technologists are moving forward, “ said Hancock. “But I’d like to suggest that maybe we are squandering our opportunity. Our questions are so small, they’re so rote, they’re so explicit, they’re so direct, even Google can guess what we’re going to ask.”

The important question Hancock then posed was simple: Are we using the information and tools that are available to us to ask the beautiful questions?

“This inquisitive nature of humans is fundamental to who we are. It sets us apart, this capacity to question,” Hancock said.

Throughout her presentation Hancock shared a number of stories in which individuals asked innovative questions, and, using the technology available to them, received innovative answers. From her own niece and nephew using Google to locate the family of an estranged great-grandfather in China, to the creation of Google’s first server and the start of Pandora Radio, Hancock demonstrated that the right questions lead to life and world-changing results.

To conclude, Hancock issued an invitation. “Find some questions that are compelling enough to you that you will live with them day by day, that they will be the kind of questions that you forget about time with, that you will feel alive that you’re asking,” she said.

She added, however, that the most important questions are not necessarily the questions that we ask, but rather the questions we become an answer to.

“As we turn these questions into engines for the intellect,” she concluded, “I hope that we’ll find those beautiful questions, that we’ll ask them so that we will be able to live more fully, love more meaningfully, and become an answer to the most important questions of who we are and how we can become better people to bless those around us.”

Sylvia Cutler (B.A. English/French ’17)

Sylvia covers the department of Comparative Arts & Letters for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a double major in English and French with a minor in women’s studies.