A More Beautiful Question – Warren Berger

A More Beautiful Question – by Warren Berger
Date read: 1/19/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

I first heard Warren Berger on The Knowledge Project podcast, then purchased this book in an effort to improve my own questioning ability. While it is a great resource for asking better questions, this book offers so much more than that. It's an insightful look into the role of inquiry in modern life. Berger suggests that as the world becomes more complex and dynamic, questions become more valuable than answers. He offers a framework to formulate and ask better questions. But he also digs deeper into topics such as the age of adaptation, design thinking, our education system, and the reasons people avoid fundamental questioning. As an added bonus, there are some brilliant questions Berger challenges us to consider for ourselves along the way. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

To encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power–not something that is done lightly in hierarchical companies or in government organizations, or even in classrooms, where a teacher must be willing to give up control to allow for more questioning.

If the questions from leaders and managers focus more on Why are we falling behind competitors? and Who is to blame?, then the organization is more likely to end up with a culture of turf-guarding and finger-pointing. Conversely, if the questions asked tend to be more expansive and optimistic, then that will be reflected in the culture.

With all that's changing in the world and in our customers' lives, what business are we really in?

The Age of Adaptation: To keep up, today's worker must constantly learn new skills. "I went to school, got a degree, picked up a skill, gained expertise in my field–I established myself over the years. Why should I have to start over?"

When the world moved at a slower pace and things weren't quite so complex, we spent the early part of life in learning mode. Then, once you became an adult, you figured out what your job was and you repeated the same thing over and over again for the rest of your life. Today, that rinse-and-repeat approach no longer works as well...the comfortable expert must go back to being a restless learner.

As the world becomes more complex and dynamic, questions become more valuable than answers.

To navigate today's info-swamp, we must have, "the ability to evaluate risk, recognize demagoguery, the ability to question not only other people's views, but one's own assumptions." -Leon Botstein

But eventually, all doctors–and all the rest of us, as well–will have access to some form of cloud-based super-search engine that can quickly answer almost any factual question with a level of precision and expertise that's way beyond what we have now. Which reinforces that the value of questions is going to keep rising as that of answers keeps falling.

Einstein on looking up his own phone number in a phone book – no reason to fill his mind with information that can so easily be looked up.

Design thinking:
-Framing a problem and learning more about it (why)
-Generating ideas (what if)
-Prototyping (how)

Connective Inquiry: Connecting existing ideas in unusual and interesting ways. One of the primary sources of creativity. Involves both connections and questions.

Do kids stop questioning because they've lost interest in school, or do they lose interest in school because their natural curiosity (and propensity to question) is somehow tamped down?

Project-based or inquiry-based schools get students to ask introspective questions such as What's interesting to me? Nobody's ever asked them that before. Entire curriculum is based around big questions.

The emphasis on letting students explore, direct their own learning, and work on projects instead of taking test–can also be found at Montessori schools. Montessori alumni include Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google).

Students find it really liberating to have a teacher say, 'I don't know the answer–so let's figure this out together.'

Every time you come up with a question, you should be wondering, What are the underlying assumptions of that question? Is there a different question I should be asking?

Contextual inquiry: Asking questions up close and in context, relying on observation, listening, and empathy to guide us toward a more intelligent, and therefore more effective, question.

Think of the brain as a forest full of trees. Some of those trees are closer together than others, and the branches communicate with each other. As this happens, neural connections are formed, which can produce new thoughts, ideas, and insights. (via Dr. Ken Heilman, Professor of Neurology)

The more eclectic your storehouse of information, the more possibilities for unexpected connections. (Heilman points out that people who are well read and well traveled, those who have diverse interests and a broad liberal arts education, and developing "a whole series of different modules that can enable more connectivity and more creativity.")

Divergent thinking–which calls for trying to generate a wide range of ideas, including offbeat ones, in the early stages of creative problem solving. Idea is to force your brain off those predictable paths by purposely "thinking wrong"–coming up with ideas that seem to make no sense, mixing and matching things that don't normally go together. Jarring effect on creative thinking. In neurological terms, when you force yourself to confront contrary thoughts or upside-down ideas, you "jiggle the synapses" in the brain. Goal is not to generate lasting ideas on the spot. It's to think differently and consider a wide range of possibilities by connecting ideas that don't normally go together.

"A prototype is a question, embodied." -Diego Rodriguez

"The trick is to go from one failure to another, with no loss of enthusiasm." -Winston Churchill

Brainstorming: Generating questions instead of ideas. Allows us to think more freely and creatively. Peer pressure is reduced as answers tend to be judged more harshly than questions.
-Focus on coming out of a session with three great questions that you want to explore further (should provide a sense of direction and momentum)
-"How Might We" approach

What if a job interview tested one's ability to ask questions, as well as answer them?

Reasons people avoid fundamental questioning of much of what they do in their lives:
-Questioning is seen as counterproductive; it's the answer that most people are focused on finding, because the answers, it is believed, will provide ways to solve problems, move ahead, improve life.
-The right time for asking fundamental questions never seems to prevent itself; either it's too soon or too late.
-Knowing the right questions to ask is difficult
-What if we find we have no good answers to the important questions we raise? Fearing that, many figure it's better not to invite that additional uncertainty and doubt into their lives.

Since most schools teach us to prize answers over questions, while also generally teaching that most problems have one "right" answer, small wonder that our habit is to think that the answers we need are out there–just waiting to be "found," stumbled upon, looked up, acquired, purchased, or handed to us.

There is no substitute for self-questioning.

Is there something else you might want to want–besides what you've been told to want?

The "deferred-life" plan: ambitious young entrepreneurs devote themselves entirely to making money in the present, so that at some later point they'll have the means to pursue what really matters to them (once they take the time to figure out what that is).

Part of being able to tackle complex and difficult questions is accepting that there is nothing wrong with not knowing. People who are good at questioning are comfortable with uncertainty.

Appreciative inquiry: focus on what is working in our lives–so that we can build upon that and get more out of it. Strengths and assets. Gratitude is a shortcut to happiness. People who value and appreciate the basics tend to be a lot happier.

"When you're in a bookstore, what section are your drawn to?" -Carol Adrienne

-Why do I seem to "shine" when doing certain things? (What is it about those activities/places that brings out the best in me?_
-What if I could find a way to incorporate these interests/activities, or some aspect of them, into my life more? And maybe even into my work?
-How might I got about doing that?

"What's truly worth doing, whether you fail or succeed?" -Chris Guillebeau

Articulating a personal challenge in the form of a question has other benefits. It allows you to be bold and adventurous because anyone can question anything. You don't have to be a recognized expert; you just have to be willing to say I'm going to venture forth int he world with my question and see what I find.

Questions (the rights ones, anyway) are good at generating momentum which is why change-makers so often use them as a starting point.

How do we continually find inspiration so that we can inspire others?

What do you want to say? Why does it need to be said? What if you could say it in a way that has never before been done? How might you do that?