Learn How To Innovate by Asking Questions
Do you lack creativity? The science behind questioning can get you on track to successfully creating new ideas, solutions, or products.
Lately, I’ve read and written dozens of reviews on book about entrepreneurship, but fewer on innovation alone. I’m happy to say that this interview with author Warren Berger will help correct the imbalance. Warren has put together an amazing book that’s both captivating yet practical for helping you ask questions that lead to new insights. Read on to learn more about the science of questioning from this interview with author Warren Berger…
Warren, what inspired you to write A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas?
Warren: As a journalist, I’ve been asking questions my whole professional life. But until a few years ago, I hadn’t thought much about the art or the science of questioning. And I never considered the critical role questioning plays in enabling people to innovate, solve problems, and move ahead in their careers and lives.
That changed duringmy work on a series of articles—and eventually my 2009 book GLIMMER—which explored how designers, inventors, and engineers come up with ideas and solve problems. My research brought me in contact with some of the world’s leading innovators and creative minds. As I looked at how they approached challenges, there was no magic formula, no single explanation for their success. But in searching for common denominators among these brilliant change-makers, one thing I kept finding was that many of them were exceptionally good at asking questions.
So I started up a website called AMoreBeautifulQuestion.com where I posted articles and interviews, and collected great “actionable questions.” The site got a great response and I quickly realized I had my next book topic.
Please tell us a little bit about your background and what you are currently doing.
Warren: I am a journalist and author whose specialty is writing accessible articles and books about the intersection of creativity and business. For a long time I wrote media and culture articles for various publications such as Wired, Fast Company, and the New York Times Magazine. For the past decade or so, I’ve focused on writing commercial nonfiction books, both for myself and with various co-authors such as Phil Keoghan from the Amazing Race and Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank.
Currently, as I promote my book and its website AMoreBeautifulQuestion.com, I’m traveling around and speaking about innovation and the power of questioning.
Back to your new book, A More Beautiful Question, would benefit most from reading it?
Warren: My definition of a beautiful question (“an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change”) has resonated with a lot of audiences, but it seems to speak particularly to businesspeople and entrepreneurs; education innovators; and people in the consulting or coaching fields. These are all fields where people understand how crucial innovation and change are to success. They may have a gut feeling about how important it is to be a good questioner these days, but either aren’t sure how to go about doing it or want to get better at it—and teach others about it, too.
What makes A More Beautiful Question different from other books that cover this same topic?
Warren: There have been some previous “questioning” books but those authors came at it in a limited way, perhaps sharing their personal business experience or lists of good questions, but not offering the outsider’s perspective or writing expertise that a journalist like me brings to the process. I weave together fascinating anecdotes, research, quotes, and analysis in a way that’s been compared to Malcolm Gladwell. I take that to mean that I make rather abstract topics accessible and interesting. But I also try to bring in practical aspects: A More Beautiful Question just doesn’t say “we all need to get better at questioning” and leave people dangling. It offers a useful framework that I developed after studying of hundreds of the world’s leading innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers.
What are the most important elements, messages, or takeaways of your book that you’d like readers to know they will benefit from?
Warren: As I say in the book: We’re all hungry for answers. But first we have to ask the right questions.
Questioning is like breathing—it’s something that seems so basic, so instinctive, that we take it for granted. But there’s a lot we can all learn about how to question, and really do it well. So I sought out people who are “master questioners”—innovators, entrepreneurs, creative thinkers of all stripes—who are known for raising questions no one else is asking and doing this as a practice. I found such people in Silicon Valley startups like Pandora, Airbnb, and Square, and innovation hothouses like IDEO and MIT Labs, but I also talked to teachers, artists, basement tinkerers, and social activists who question conventional thinking daily. Their stories, and their belief in questioning, are eye-opening and motivating.
I was also curious about what’s going on in our brains when we question, so I interviewed leading neurologists. I studied the way comedians, in particular the late George Carlin, use questioning to challenge assumptions and see the world differently. And I spent time at a fascinating place called The Right Question Institute, where they are developing techniques to help children and adults become better questioners. All of this informed the section of the book that focuses on how to get better at asking Why, What if, and How questions. You come away having learned a real process for developing the right questions, and then working your way towards the answers.
What are the major sections of A More Beautiful Question?
Warren: I had a lot of fun with the structure of A More Beautiful Question. Once I realized that one of the main attributes of a question is that it engages people and brings them in, I decided to structure my book around questions, with one leading to another. There are 5 large chapters: The Power of Inquiry; Why We Stop Questioning; The Why, What If, and How of Innovative Questioning; Questioning in Business; Questioning for Life. Italicized questions divide up the sections within the chapters, and lots more questions are embedded within each section, including the 30+ “question moment” sidebars. A “Question Index” is at the back of the book—because if facts are entitled to an index, then why not questions? I worked hard to make each question provocative or quirky—you can’t help but wonder what’s the answer to that? It turned out to be a great organizing device.
What is the best piece of advice for an entrepreneur you’ve heard?
Warren: Rather than run from a failure or try to forget it ever happened, hold it to the light and inquire, “Why did this effort fail? What if I could take what I’ve learned from this failure and try a revised approach? How might I do that? And, in this failure, what went right?”
Give us an interesting fun fact about your book or the research you conducted for your book.
Warren: There was a certain point before I actually started writing when I had so much material for this book—so many interviews, so much research—that I was a bit overwhelmed. I realized that I had a classic problem in front of me, and that maybe I could use beautiful questioning to solve it. By asking myself a series of Why, What if, and How questions I came up with the idea of structuring the book around questions, which really helped lead me through the writing. I also questioned why writing a book had to be such a solitary process and set up a virtual collaborative team of people interested in the topic of questioning to help me sort through all the ideas and offer feedback.
Where can people find out more about you and/or your book?
Warren: The book is published by Bloomsbury Worldwide and is for sale at retailers everywhere as of March 4, although you can preorder it today. I also urge people to stop by AMoreBeautifulQuestion.com, where I have lots of fun features, including an “Inquiry Quiz” (where you can find out if you’re a good questioner or not), a Beautiful Questions Gallery which gives snapshots of the many great ventures that started with a great question, and a Freebies page where right now I’m giving away a free ebook on creativity called Stop • Think • Create.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers?
Warren: I really like seeing how people get engaged by the topic of questioning and all its possibilities. After you read through the book or visit the website, I would love to have you submit your own beautiful question. I’m collecting them on the What’s Your Beautiful Question? page on the site and it’s very interesting to see the range of inquiry journeys people are on (or wish someone else, like our government, education system, or big business would go on).
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