Warren Berger on the Power of the Question

An interview with bestselling author Warren Berger about questions and the importance of Question Week 

March 3, 2017

Are we asking the right questions? Can asking better questions spark innovation and creativity? How can asking better questions help us in our personal and business lives?

Warren Berger

Exploring the power of inquiry is the focus of Warren Berger’s 2014 bestselling book, A More Beautiful Question. Berger, who is a journalist and “questionologist,” based the book on his study of hundreds of the world’s leading thinkers and innovators. The lessons he learned apply to just about all aspects of our lives, not just our work or academic lives.

We at InfoWorks are especially interested in Berger’s work because we believe that success in the business world is all about asking better questions. In business, we so often miss the important question, the really “beautiful” question that leads to the answers we seek. For example, asking your customer that one extra question might provide an unexpected revenue opportunity; asking your project stakeholder the right question is often the key to ensuring that the project is on target and successful.

We can all learn to ask better questions. That’s why Warren Berger invented “Question Week,” an annual event in March that encourages us all to ask “more beautiful” questions. InfoWorks reached out to Berger over email to learn more about Question Week and the philosophy behind it.

InfoWorks: What is Question Week?

Warren Berger: March 14 is the birthdate of Albert Einstein—a lifelong champion of questioning. In honor of Questionmeister Einstein, for the past four years, I’ve led a group of organizations in sponsoring Question Week, the mid-March week which encompasses Einstein’s birthday. The goal is to increase appreciation of the importance of questioning and critical thinking in business, education, business, and in our daily lives.

This year, from Sunday, March 12 to Saturday, March 18, people across the Internet are encouraged to share their stories and thoughts about the role of curiosity and questioning in their lives, or to share their own meaningful “beautiful questions”—all designed to create a national conversation around questioning. We’ll be collecting anecdotes and photos on the QuestionWeek.com site, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

InfoWorks: Why is there a need for a Question Week?

Warren Berger: My mission since I published my book A More Beautiful Question has been to get the word out to businesses, schools, government agencies, and various other organizations that questioning is often the starting point of innovation, learning, and growth. It’s an incredibly valuable yet underappreciated tool.

Most people I talk to in my travels agree with me about the importance of questioning. But one big challenge that people mention is time. It takes time to stop “doing” and start questioning. Asking thoughtful, meaningful, “beautiful” questions—whether it’s about our businesses, our jobs, our children’s education, or just about any aspect of our lives—may require that we slow down and step back. It’s a process that calls for reflection, analysis, incubation of ideas. And for many of us living fast-paced lives, there simply is no place in the schedule set aside for “questioning.”

Hence, Question Week—with the idea being, if there’s a period of time designated for questioning, maybe we’ll use that opportunity to try to do more of it. And maybe in the process, we’ll discover that questioning really is a useful and powerful thing that we should be doing all year-round.

InfoWorks: How can businesses benefit by participating in Question Week?

Warren Berger: Nearly every industry is experiencing extreme and constant change these days—tried-and-true industry knowledge and stock answers are becoming outdated overnight. The ability to frame the right questions to identify opportunities and tackle challenges is more key than ever.

On my website AMoreBeautifulQuestion.com, I’ve written a lot about how the most innovative, industry-changing businesses are champions of transformational questioning. It’s a foundational element of their corporate culture. So I urge readers to use Question Week as the springboard for beginning to create a culture of inquiry at your business. It can really galvanize both your employees and your business.

ask more questionsFor those interested in picking up some questioning skills (or sharpening the ones you already have), the site QuestionWeek.com features a number of easy questioning exercises you can try, to get more in the habit of developing and pursuing actionable questions. My hope is that these will be used, during the week and thereafter, in workplaces and classrooms.

On that site there are also a number of articles and posts explaining why questioning is so important in business; why and how we should be emphasizing student questioning more in classrooms; and stories about the power of “beautiful questions” to transform our lives and the world around us.

InfoWorks: How can asking better questions support critical thinking?

Warren Berger: Although there’s no single definition of critical thinking, most people agree that it involves reasoning, evaluating, and making decisions based on evidence. In today’s complex world, critical thinking is a crucial skill, one that’s not really being taught all that much in school. Meanwhile, our talent for critical thinking is being weakened by the sheer amount of information coming at us each day. The social media echo chambers aren’t helping either. Questioning, however, can help.

When faced with a directive or claim—whether it’s a news story that neglects to provide historical context when discussing unemployment data, a sales pitch that leaves out important details about interest repayment plans, or a politician’s promised solution that fails to mention potential downsides—I believe the primary tool for evaluating such statements or claims is the question. Thoughtful, skeptical questions, specifically.

You’ll want to ask yourself questions like: What is the evidence supporting this claim? How reliable is the evidence? Does it come from a trusted source? Is there an agenda behind it?

Ask: What are they NOT telling me? And are there any fallacies in the logic?

Questioning like this can be a slow process and requires humility—a willingness to admit that you don’t know or may be wrong about something. But the clarity and results are worth it for you and your business.

I’ve written at greater length about critical thinking on my blog so please click on the link for more on the connection between good questioning and good thinking.

 

Innovation expert Warren Berger is a longtime journalist with the New York Times, Wired, and Fast Company and the author of six books, including the international bestseller A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. He shows how innovators and dynamic companies harness the power of inquiry—one of the most effective forces for igniting change in business and life.

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