There is a big payoff to asking better questions – we get to tackle the unknown and find better solutions.
Innovators move the world forward through questions. They ask – What if? Why?
As we grow from children into adults, we learn that playing it safe has merits. Questions can show weakness, ignorance, or may be perceived as challenge. They can signal unwillingness or a lack of desire to co-operate. Questions slow things down and introduce perceived inefficiencies. And so many of us become more measured over time in the questions we ask. Some just stop questioning altogether. Questions can be risky. But this stepping back comes at a huge cost. We miss opportunities to check our understanding, and we gradually lose our natural sense of wonder and curiosity.
Questions allow us to organise our thinking about what we do not know. Asking a good question can challenge a long-held wisdom, and put new perspective to the familiar. Questions help us to solve problems. Questions can change us, and the world around us.
If more beautiful questions have so much to offer us, why are we not more mindful about how we question, with the aim of improving the questions we ask? What if we could better harness the power of beautiful questions?
Getting to more beautiful and purposeful questions – a few pointers
- There should be no right or wrong question, but a beautiful question is rooted in an authentic curiosity. This is different to a criticism in disguise, or an ‘ask’ to prove a point.
- Be conscious of what you think you already know. Our own depth of knowledge can conspire against questioning. A sense of knowing can mean we stop asking where it might matter most.
- There is something to be said for the total novice, who poses the question that may seem ‘stupid’ but that challenges accepted wisdom. Who has ‘rookie’ eyes, and what questions do they have?
- Explore the question with the person who asks it. Turn the question around and out. Ask what everyone else thinks.
- Encourage questions, and don’t always think that you have to answer them.
- Create a culture of valuing questions. There needs to be a better understanding of the value of questions and what questions do, so that they are better received, and so that we get better at asking them.
- Don’t let questions become career limiting moves. Don’t label questioners as obstructive and disagreeable. Instead, support people in the practice of their questioning skill.
- Encourage shared ownership of questions. This is sometimes referred to as collaborative enquiry, where everyone plays a part in answering the question. You can use techniques like Lego Serious Play to model the answering of questions, and to generate more questions to be asked.
- Or, encourage ownership of a question. Every innovator starts out with the ownership of a question.
- Practice your questioning and develop it like a skill. Questioning is one of the 5 skills of the Innovators DNA that can be learned and practiced.
Have a go at asking and answering these questions yourself, right now:
What is the big question in your organisation / your work … how might we / I?
Can you turn your mission statement into a mission question?
What if companies replaced their mission statement with a mission question, and then shared ownership for answering that question with the whole company? What impact would that have?
This post draws a lot on The Knowledge Project, Farnam Street Blog, by Shane Parrish, this episode: “Improve Your Life by Improving Your Questions”. The podcast is an interview with Warren Berger — journalist, speaker, author and self-proclaimed questionologist. Explore this topic in more depth by listening to the full podcast or read the book, A More Beautiful Question. It shows how the world’s leading innovators, education leaders, creative thinkers and start-ups ask game-changing questions to nurture creativity, solve problems and create new possibilities.
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