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A more beautiful question is a great book written by Warren Berger. In this book Berger presents the world from the perspective of asking questions, explaining the benefits of it, illustrating how any great innovation started with great questions.
He explains that in our so fast changing world, leaders will be those coming with better questions than with better answers (which tend to quickly be obsolete).
He invites companies to replace Mission Statements by Mission Questions, to encourage questions at all levels and he believes Questions-storming are more effective than brainstorming because:
- It’s easier to come up with questions
- It generates less pressure about what others are going to think
- It’s easier to narrow down to a few great intriguing motivating questions, giving a sense of direction, than to a few answers (difficulty to converge and agree on answers)
What’s getting in the way to ask questions?
I have noticed for myself that the following can get in my way to ask questions:
- Fear of being too intrusive
- Fear of embarrassing the other person
- Fear of being seen as not knowing, as a fool
- Lack of curiosity, interest
We are not trained in asking questions. We are educated in learning and knowing answers. In the workplace, we might get away with questions at the beginning when we are new, but quickly we are expected to know and / or we are feeling we should know.
And to be completely transparent, this is a hard part in coaching, which is question-based, where the coach is the expert in not knowing and where the client also has to get comfortable with not knowing. I am constantly being present to that and working on it, as a coach and when I am being coached.
What are the benefits of asking questions?
As I see it, the benefits are four folds:
Asking questions as a way to not make assumptions:
- Everyday, we make tens of assumptions on everything: on what others think, their intention, on how things are going to go etc…
- Understanding that we actually don’t know most of these is the 1st Then asking questions is the simplest way to not make any wrong assumption and really know what is going on.
Asking questions out of curiosity as a way to build rapport and trust
- Have you ever been at the contact of a person who seems genuinely interested in you, asking questions and listening to your answers without the intention to prove you right or wrong or to tell her story? That feels good doesn’t it? Of course, the important word here is genuine, sincere. People can tell if you are really interested or not. And this can actually be learned and practiced.
Asking questions as a way to open new possibilities and spark creativity
- Asking questions takes us out of our usual, narrow way of thinking. It helps us see what we usually don’t see and it widens the range of possibilities.
- Berger talks about the Vujade Principle which is to see things as a beginner, as if you had never experienced it before (the opposite of the Dejavu principle). It is hard because our ego tends to not want to be a beginner. It’s hard enough to prove ourselves in this world so it doesn’t feel good to be a beginner again. But when we take the time to do it, we definitely see new things that we didn’t see before.
- As Berger explains it, the brain is like a forest with trees (the cells) and branches (the dendrites). When they connect to another dendrite from another tree, it creates new ideas. The right brain (creative one) has longer dendrites than the left brain (the rational, logical one) which enables more faraway connections and therefore more creativity. A great illustration of what it means concretely is the connective inquiry: connect ideas from faraway and unrelated domains. Instead of asking “what if we combine A and B”, ask “what if we combine A and Z” or even better “what if we combine A and 26”. Then you create new concepts, new products, new services, new experiences.
Note: if you want to develop your creativity, slowing down, relaxing, meditating, taking a walk in nature, will ease it. It’s all about creating some space in the noise of our heads to let new ideas/perspectives pop up.
Asking questions to move on:
Just living into a question might be enough, you sometimes don’t even need to know the answer. It will guide your actions and move you forward until you either reach what you wanted to achieve with that question (then you realize you couldn’t have come with the path you actually followed should you have tried to plan for it), or your question (and even more so the answer) becomes obsolete.
Examples of interesting questions
To conclude, here are some example of interesting questions you can ask yourselves or others (the key is to take the time to really sit with them):
- To explore what you really want in life, business or at work:
- What do you (I) want? What else? What else? What else? What else? What else? (We really don’t spend enough time wondering what we want)
- Wouldn’t it be cool if? (no censorship because we usually tend to want what we think we can get)
- Why is this important for you (me)?
- What would that do for you (me)?
- What does success look like?
- What does success feel like?
- Why not?
- To challenge the initial assumptions
- Is it true? Are you (am I) 100% sure?
- What if you (I) were wrong?
- Instead of asking “why is this?”, start with “is this?” Doing this tends to take your judgment or bias out of the equation.
- To brainstorm:
- What if there was no constraint?
- What if everything was possible?
- To understand yourself and others
- What does it mean for you (me)?
- What would that look like?
- How do you (I) feel about it?
- What’s coming for you (me)?
- When you are stuck
- If your (my) best friend would come and ask you (me) about this situation, what would you (I) tell him?
- What if you (I) simply did nothing?
- Why is it bothering you (me)? Why are you (am I) actually having this question?
- Vulnerable questions to deepen your exploration:
- What do you (I) know is true but don’t want to admit?
- What are you (am I) afraid of?
- What don’t you (I) want others to know?
As a conclusion, if we can switch from “needing to know all the answers” to asking ourselves “what would be a (more) beautiful question?”, I truly believe that the relationships, the workplace, the businesses and the whole world will be in a better place.