A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas By. Warren Berger

Key Insights

Warren Berger, the writer of “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas,” decided to interview some of the world’s leading innovators.

What he discovered was that they were all exceptionally good at asking the right questions.

This makes sense as geniuses such as Einstein and Socrates stumbled upon their greatest discoveries because of their ability to ask questions.

We also know that top leaders in the market succeed because of their curiosity and innovations which help them beat out their competition.

“You don’t learn unless you question.”- Warren Berger

By asking questions, we can embrace change to become adaptable and flexible which helps us to move forward as strong leaders.

In these insights, you will learn how to ask the right questions.

Key Points

  • Inquiry Has Power

In 1976, Van Phillips, a man who had recently lost one of his legs in a tragic boating accident, asked the question “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot?”

This simple question propelled Phillips to dig deeper. Phillips enrolled in a prosthetics program at Northwestern University. Then, he spent ten years developing and perfecting a new design for an artificial limb.

After every failed design, he would ask more questions in order to keep improving the limb.

The curiosity for the answers to his questions is what pushed him to keep going. It was what kept him perfecting the artificial limb design.

The question “why” is an important one. It takes note of the issue at hand, promotes a challenge, and holds context.

Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, asked why he had to pay late fees when he brought a movie back to Blockbuster. This is an example of a top-leader getting sick of the old way and asking “why?” in the hopes of finding a new way.

However, you can’t just ask “why?” You must also take action.

People who take action usually follow this formula:

 

  1. They discover a problem and then ask “why?”
  2. They brainstorm solutions.
  3. They ask “how” questions when looking at possible solutions.

 

This can be called the “why, what if, and how sequence.” It’s a logical way to find a solution.

After Phillips asked “why?”, he started asking “what if?” That’s when he began finding innovative solutions to the problems he was having with his designs.

Phillips began studying springboard motion and animal anatomy to help spark some new ideas for improvement.

With this knowledge, Phillips made hundreds of designs and finally created the Flex-foot. This led to many more inventions. Without Phillips, amputees would not be climbing Mt.Everest or competing in the Olympics.

Asking the right questions can lead a person to amazing innovations, but we don’t all naturally have this inclination.

  • Why Do We Stop Asking Questions?

Children, naturally, ask a lot of questions. Between the ages of two and five, when the brain is rapidly developing, studies show a child asks approximately 40,000 questions.

After the age of five, the number of questions a child asks decreases. And from there it continues to decline.

“Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.” - Warren Berger

One of the big reasons for this is the education system, which doesn’t encourage questions as much as they should.

Teachers must have time to teach, so oftentimes children are asked to be quiet and listen. And as children get older, they become self-conscious asking questions in front of their peers to their teacher.

In the ‘70s, a New York teacher named Deborah Meier designed a school that was designed to encourage questions from children.

The school started in Harlem and its main focus was problem-solving and critical thinking. There were five main skills that she focused on and with each skill, there were questions associated with it.

The Five Skills:

 

  1. Evidence - What evidence matters? How do we know what’s true and what’s false?
  2. Viewpoint - What does this look like from another perspective?
  3. Connection - Is this familiar? Is it a pattern?
  4. Conjecture - What if it was different?
  5. Relevance - Why does this matter?

 

At Meier’s school questions were encourage and a lot of hands-on learning occurred. The school was a success as research found that teaching kids to be curious saved the dropout rate in the poverty-ridden area.

Unfortunately, the school struggled when Meier’s left and there are not many schools like hers operating in the US.

Even though we are born asking questions, the proper way to do it must be learned and practiced.

  • Innovative Questioning

Edwin Land, the developed of Polaroid was asked a question by his daughter that would have his mind busy for years. She wanted to know why she had to wait to see her picture after it was taken.

It took years for Land to develop the first black and white polaroid and then another 30 years for his company to develop one with color.

The question of why helps to illuminate problems.

If we adjust our views, we become open to curiosity and gain the ability to ask more powerful questions that can bring us to creative and innovative solutions.

To help us do this, it’s important to take a step away from our previous knowledge as it often carries assumptions with it.

Steve Jobs is known for using this method to help him brainstorm new ways for technology to be incorporated in people’s everyday lives.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”- Warren Berger

It is often termed “a beginner’s mind.” And it works by letting go of all of the knowledge we already have in order to become open to all possibilities.

The what-if stage of the process of inquiry comes next. This is the stage that fuels inspiration.

This stage often allows people to think of different combinations of things. For example, Frederick Rueckheim, the creator of Cracker Jack asked the question, “What if I combined three popular snacks: popcorn, peanuts, and caramel?” The rest is history!

The last stage is the how-stage and it’s the stage when reality comes into play. This is when the inventor or idea person must get to work creating.

This is when you must test ideas, see them fail, and try again.

Gauri Nanda, an MIT student had a hard time waking up in the morning. She wanted to develop an alarm clock that was more difficult to ignore.

She decided on a design for an alarm clock that you literally had to chase down in order to shut off. She called it Clocky and it was a giant success. But before that, she tried many different prototypes before perfecting it.

  • Inquiry In Business

There are a lot of business leaders who just aren’t asking enough questions. But, because of rapid market changes, they should be in order to make their businesses thrive.

The business world was traditionally built on a hierarchy that discourages its employees from asking questions.

But now we understand that in the business world, speed, flexibility, and collaboration are all important. And asking questions can fuel that.

The most important question for businesses to ask is, “why are we in business?” And the answer shouldn’t be something as simple as to sell technology. It should be mission-based. For example, we are in business to improve people’s everyday lives with convenient easy-to-use technology.

Employees should be rewarded for asking deep penetrating questions. Some businesses even hold programs that are dedicated to asking these sorts of questions. For example, Google has a TGIF program, which encourages employees to submit questions to top executives on Fridays. The questions are then voted on by employees and the top questions are answered live.

This allows employees to feel like it is ok to ask questions and that their questions will be addressed.

To solve tough problems and find solutions in today’s world, collaborative questioning is a must.

  • Life’s Questions

Answers to life’s questions are not just found. They are born from the questions that we ask.

In order to find the questions to ask, you must practice slowing down, unplugging, and focusing on the big picture.

One big question that sparks many ideas is “What would I do if I couldn’t fail?” That’s because it encourages us to think big without the fear of failure.

However, we know that failure is inevitable sometimes, so then we must ask, “If I fail, how do I come back from that?” This allows us to believe that failure is not the end.

The question, “What if I do nothing?” is a good way to remember that we need a change in order to move forward in life.

“A beautiful question is 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.”- Warren Berger

Try to find the big question that will spark ideas in your life and keep you motivated and positive.

The Main Take-Away

Questions should be encouraged because they lead to problem-solving solutions which result in creative innovations. You should follow the stage formula of why, what-if, and how to lead you to incredible new ideas.