on March 5, 2014
When I picked up Warren's book I tore through the first two chapters in a single sitting. And then I hit Chapter 3: The Why, What If, and How of Innovative Questioning. That chapter took a long time -- I kept finding questions that made me want to rethink my consulting practice. Here's the bottom line: this is a good book, well researched and loaded with examples. I've kept a list of favorite books that goes back 35 years -- I just added Warren's book to my list.
on March 4, 2014
I'd like to offer the perspective of someone who was interviewed for this book. Warren Berger did the leg work for this book with great respect for a wide range of people who are all pushing the envelope in their own way, trying to advance our understanding of just how important questions are for innovation, education, creativity and more. He is thought-provoking in his own questioning and thoughtful in his listening. He took in new approaches and considered how they connected to his own ideas about how to use questions effectively, articulated so clearly in this book. He is a skilled writer who allows us to read effortlessly, moving from page to page, whetting our appetite to learn more because he manages to bring so many different perspectives into one insightful narrative. You'll be surprised by how much you learn "just" by thinking about questions. You'll finish the book wiser and better equipped to take on new challenges and generate new ideas.
on April 24, 2014
I think of myself as a curious person and someone who questions the conventional wisdom, so I was naturally curious about a book on questioning. Wasn't sure if it was just going to be a self-help book showing you how to ask better questions, or something more. The answer is, it's a lot more. The book has so many interesting, inspiring stories that show you how somebody used questioning to overcome a problem or create something new. It also explores why we ask a lot of questions as kids, and then suddenly stop (fascinating to see what our schools are doing—and NOT doing—when it comes to stoking kids' curiosity and questioning). There's a good section on business and questioning, where the author makes the case that companies need to encourage more questioning by employees in order to be innovative (I totally agree).
But my favorite part of the book was the section on using questioning in your daily life—i.e., using the right questions to overcome fear of failure, bring more change into your life, and help you figure out what you really want to do with your life. Great, useful stuff. And a good, smooth read on top of all that.
on March 12, 2014
After reading Glimmer, Warren Berger's 2009 book looking at designers and design thinking, I became a fan of sorts and pre-ordered A More Beautiful Question anticipating something good as a follow-up. I wasn't disappointed. Like Glimmer -- and perhaps design thinking -- Berger takes both a deep dive and a broad stroke over his subject matter. This is tough to do well, but Berger pulls it off.
There is something delightful about looking at something that seems so obvious and simple, but is far from simplistic, in detail. Berger goes through the vast swaths of research and evidence on question formation and innovation and blends it seamlessly with anecdotes, observations and questions...lots and lots of questions. To 'live the title' of the book, the text is organized around questions and, at least with the Kindle, the questions are hyperlinked to explanations at the back about their origin and relevance. This feature was wonderful and frustrating -- but largely due to technology. I read using a Nexus tablet, but my preferred reader is the original Kindle. On that latter device, the linking becomes a frustration in that it is sometimes hard to get back to your place. But that's a small point.
Berger's style of writing is engaging, balancing conciseness with informality, and using enough revisiting of ideas in different places in the text to thread ideas throughout the narrative, but not too much to feel repetitive. I loved this just as I loved Glimmer.
What a reader will take from this is that questions are important, that the best (and most consistent) innovators, leaders and scientists are typically great at asking questions and not just providing answers. Indeed, Berger makes the case that the question and answer are inextricably linked showing dozens of examples of how the habits of questioning lead to exciting outcomes. He also offers a challenge to anyone involved in education -- which, he'd argue is nearly everyone in this age of change and ongoing learning -- to examine how questions are encouraged and discouraged to shun curiosity. This has enormous implications and, as we see, gets replicated in our businesses and other organizations.
If this book does anything for you I hope it gets you to ask better questions and enjoy not always having answers. Taken to heart, the message of paying attention to the questions -- living the questions if you will -- is one that may have profound consequences on your life, work, and learning.
Let me ask a meta-question: what is a question? Via many pages and countless examples, this book will remind you that a question is a tool to probe the darkness of ignorance by doing things like:
- Revealing our assumptions
- Clarifying what we don't know
- Identifying and clarifying problems, threats, and opportunities
- Learning new things, including connections among things we already know
- Placing what we already know in a different context
- Reminding us of things
- Verifying things
- Coming up with creative ideas (eg, solutions to problems), including ways to implement ideas
- Raising additional questions
This is all well and good, but honestly that's about all I got from this book. The book could have easily been shortened to an article, but the author is a journalist, so he's good at spinning out words and we wind up with a book which doesn't yield much more than an article. I got something out of the book, but it wasn't worth the time invested, and the vast majority of what the author says seems rather obvious, at least to me. Also, the emphasis of the book is business applications.
For a deeper exploration of ways to question and benefits of doing so, I suggest Googling 'the ignorance university'.
on April 9, 2014
What I really enjoyed about the book was the combination of interesting stories, and very practical insights and tips. The author shows how people in various fields have used questioning to solve problems and achieve big breakthroughs---something that everyone can apply in their own lives and work.
There's also a fascinating chapter that explores why kids start off asking so many questions—and suddenly stop upon entering school. (The ones who don't stop questioning seem to be many of the people running Silicon Valley and our most successful businesses today). Overall, this is an important book, and also a fun read.
It can also a helpful read for parents and teachers so they don't inadvertently squelch the natural interest and creativity of their kids.
on April 10, 2014
As a designer, I guess I tend to be a natural questioner--I look at various situations and ways of doing things, and think, `How would I do this differently?' So I was excited to find a book that seemed to be aimed at curious people like me. "A More Beautiful Question" confirms what I've always believed about the importance of questioning and curiosity. But the book also does a lot more than that. It shows you how to take your questions and make them smarter, more effective. And it made me realize that good questioning skills aren't just important in my design work. They're critical to living a better life. I found this book to be both enriching and inspiring.
on April 7, 2014
“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.” So begins Warren Berger’s exploration of what is, I believe, becoming one of the most important topics facing us all - how to formulate insightful questions. As Berger states on page 24, “We must become, in a word, neotenous (the retention of childlike attributes into adulthood). To do so, we must rediscover the tool that kids use so well in those early years: the question.” Berger goes on to discuss several key areas associated with questions...the power of inquiry, why we stop questioning, and a template for developing good questions...why, what if, and how. He concludes the book with two very useful chapters on the use of questioning in business and in one’s personal life.
I found myself frequently nodding in agreement with much of what Berger lays out in chapter 3 - why we stop questioning. I personally find it disconcerting that our traditional pedagogical instruction, beginning in grade school and in many cases continuing on through university, rewards students for answers rather than for articulating insightful questions. As Berger states, while we’re usually just a few key strokes away from finding an answer to something online, our educational upbringing doesn’t challenge us to formulate the appropriate question that resulted in the answer we derive. As if the shortcomings of our schools aren’t enough, Berger goes on to discuss how today’s “efficiency minded, get it done” business environment typically doesn’t tolerate questioning because it “slows things down.” Business leaders and politicians often evoke “innovation” as a cure for our stagnant economy, seemingly without realizing that insightful questioning is a prerequisite for any innovation.
The chapter on the why, what if, and how methodology for questioning contains some imminently practical advice, and is compliment with well written accounts from the worlds of commerce, medicine, and entertainment, among others, that bring the concepts to life. One of my learning take-aways from this chapter is on page 93, where Berger quotes one of his many research sources, “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?”
The final two chapters on questioning in business and in one’s personal life are, on their own, worth the price of the book. I particularly like the idea of “question-storming” in place of brainstorming, and the accompanying idea of posing such questions as “How might we...?” As Berger states, this is a non-threatening yet extremely powerful method to elicit further thought and creativity.
Lastly, kudos to Berger for including a very useful bibliography containing additional details on his sources and suggestions for further reading. In addition, there’s also a very handy index of all the questions posed throughout the book.
The best compliment I can pay to a book is to purchase copies as gifts for those who I think would benefit. A More Beautiful Question is definitely in that category. So, I’ll conclude my review with a question, “what’s stopping you from reading this book?”
on June 22, 2014
In my line of work good questioning and listening skills are vital so I was looking forward to this book. I found it just okay. Perhaps I'm too pragmatic but I felt the whole focus was questioning with very little emphasis given to coming up with answers. It leaned more towards philosophical type questioning than scientific inquiry. For some people that will be exactly what they want and they'll love this book. However, while the journey is important - questioning - for most people the journey is taken up to arrive at a destination - answers. Personally I could have used a more practical/strategic approach to questioning than what I found here.
on June 28, 2014
Don't think it really occurred to me that that there was a process to questions. That there is a progression from why to what if to how. That things don't work so well if you go straight to the how.
I have had it in my head that I am not supposed to ask why questions. That this supposedly gets you stuck in the past, on who is to blame, on explanations. But when you ask, "why am I doing this? " you are really looking for intention. So I have put back "why" into my toolbox after reading this book.
Another useful thing was the discussion about how business sees asking questions as a waste of time and a distraction from acting. I have not been a fan of the old "just do it" thing and this reinforced why I am uncomfortable with it. A quote from some other book - "action without strategy is stupid!"
So overall a very powerful and practical book. No academic ivory tower "let's just sit here and theorise and make our selves sound smart by asking lots of questions" type of stuff.