Ask Better Questions

Personal Development

All improvements and advancements in life start with a question. 

This is the realization I had as I read through the book A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger. His writing and research on questioning and innovation have appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and Wired magazine—I really enjoyed diving into this book.

Asking questions and developing a learning disposition is natural for children but it dies quickly as we advance through our educational system. It even dies a little more as we get into our careers, especially when working in organizations where efficiency and chain of command are paramount.

Adhering to procedures and policies is great but in today’s economy do systems and protocols put your company at risk of being left behind? 

Berger raises an interesting framework of questioning that I feel can be applied to our work and personal lives. Here are three (3) great questions to ask:

  • Why? This is the exploratory question that kicks things off. Why are we not generating more revenue? Why are our suppliers slow at responding? Why did we not sell more of our latest product? The main thing stopping people from asking “why” is usually pride. This question can raise insecurities, requires effort to answer, and can be seen as wasting time.
  • What if? This question is about testing theories and gaining critical experiences. Kids experiment through “what if” questions regularly, such as, “What if I drop my spoon?”. When we apply “what if” questions we begin to push the boundaries, rules and culture of relationships or organization. What if we stopped X and did Y instead? What if we created a new division? What if we shut down our retail stores and went 100% online?
  • How? This is the implementation question. How can we execute better? How can we focus our resources towards this new area of the business? How can we make a change that will increase our chances of being successful? This line of questioning leads to revised strategies and procedures that can bring about a desired result.

In my experience, the questions that deal with the start of the value chain (i.e. consumers or customers) are the most important for one’s business. Why do people buy from us? Why do they value a competitor more than us? Why would they buy more? Asking and gaining clarity on these questions is why I’m a huge advocate for consumer or customer research. The solution to these questions usually lead to deeper insights about the business strategy and can aid significantly in strategic planning.

“In a time when so much of what we know is subject to revision or obsolescence, the comfortable expert must go back to being a restless learner.” – Warren Berger, p. 23

You don’t learn unless you question. Have a great day!

– Braden