Startup & Technology

What to Ask to Mentors: How to Nurture Critical Thinking

At the ‘Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship’ seminar by US Embassy, one of 3 inspiring speakers, Svida Alisjahbana @svidss said, Indonesia has no mentoring culture, we’re not used to asking questions, the thing that is really needed when you’re meeting face to face with the important people that could be the mentor for your success.

And I thought, wow… why I haven’t think of that.

I just back from 9 days trip to Discover Bahrain, and I met a lot of important Bahraini people from a lot of sectors that can give me useful knowledge and insights to bring home. But when it’s time to ask questions, I rarely have anything to ask. It was usually my friend Kubra, a Turkish-German journalist, or Xolile an activist from South Africa, or Daniel an entrepreneur from Costa Rica, that always have something to ask.

Then it struck me. Is this cultural thing or is it just because we’re not used to think critical?

A lot of young men and women come to me, asking me to be their mentor, but only a little of them could ask me specific questions that they need to build their dreams. One of them that has been successfully ‘utilize’ me as her mentor is @AngieMarsha and Jasa Pembantu is the prove of her hardwork and critical thinking.

On early months of entrepreneurship, I have a mentor, Mr. Nukman Luthfie. But with him, I also felt like I never fully maximized my opportunity and never asked him questions of things I need to know. Simply because I don’t know what to ask.

Quoted from Lesley Jane Seymour’s article, during one post-speech Q&A session, Sheryl Sandberg writes, “I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming.”

When having a mentor is compared to waiting for a prince charming, then on the day we meet them, we should really be prepared (with our questions). And that means we must change the way we think, to train our brain to be more critical.

Critical thinking doesn’t neccessarily mean to be negative thinking, it rather define as evaluative thinking. And maybe because we’re not trained since we were children to think critical (remember that silent scary moments when teachers ask, ‘Any questions?’), now it’s time for us to trained ourselves.

From my research, here are ways to be more ‘critical’:

  • Be curious & courageous, practice your courage by participating in any Q&A opportunities, no questions are stupid questions
  • Learn to see problem from a different point of view, check as many angles as possible
  • Read or watch the news and offer your own opinion about the subject
  • Take time to really listen. Write inspirational stories about people you meet, every day
  • Have a little dose of skepticism, ask the what ifs
  • Create a habit to make small projects (at least on weekly basis) and finished it, analyze problems and give solutions
  • Debate your bestfriends, you’re not always have to be on the same page, it’s not personal
  • Try to discover, practice to pay attention and getting what’s not said with words from a person
  • Practice to use six types of Socratic questions on your daily life

Also read this useful resource on how to ‘make the most of’ your mentors

The discipline in practicing critical thinking on daily basis will improve the quality of our communication and problem-solving abilities, help us learning more from our mentors and hopefully will make our dreams come true.

Ladies, happy International Women’s Day!



A writer of 30 books. Co-Founder & CMO & Initiate StartupLokal, the biggest startup community in Indonesia. Co-Managing Director of Girls in Tech Indonesia.


  • Dinye Hernanda

    I’m currently studying International Business in Germany, my class consists of 70 students from about 30 different countries in the world (I’m the only Indonesian). This is my first week and the thing that i notice immediately is just exactly what you’ve written above. When it’s time to ask questions, i rarely have something to ask, when most of my friends (esp. from western country, USA, French, Germany,etc.) always raise their hand. I always think it’s just me tho, has nothing to do with our cultural value. But you might be true. I find this article really useful. Gotta try some of them. Thanks!


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