Thoughts on A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

March’s book was A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger.  “Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question” inspired by these lines from one of E. E. Cummings poems, the author sets out to explore the role that questioning plays in innovation.  The book’s scope is broad: the power of inquiry as a starting point, why we stop asking questions as freely as we did in childhood, format for questions that lead to innovation and, the applications of innovative questioning in both the business world and everyday life.

Cleverly, this book uses questions as its’ skeleton.  The author capitalizes on excellent examples to illustrate how provocative questions can prompt authentic investigation and engagement with a topic.  From a teacher’s perspective, I thought the discussion of questioning and the decline in questioning that happens throughout childhood and the teenage years was particularly interesting.  Evidence points to a correlation between a student’s level of engagement in school and their asking questions. Naturally, the book considers why this could be the case. Teachers, in large part, are the individuals responsible for formulating questions in schools.  Researchers believe that this one-way use of questioning has “inadvertently contributed to the professionalization of asking questions – to the idea that only the people who know more are allowed to ask.” As a counter to this, the authors put forth the idea that questioning should be explicitly taught in schools and offer a process for doing so called the “Question Formulation Technique.”  Here’s what the process looks like:

  1. The teacher forms a question focus and shares it with students.
  2. Students work in groups to generate as many questions as they can within a specified time frame.
  3. Groups improve their questions by opening and/or closing them.
  4. Students prioritize their questions and pick the most important 3.
  5. Students and teachers decide on next steps.
  6. Students reflect on what they have learned.

The Right Question Institute has lots more information and high quality resources for implementing this process in the classroom.

As people practice forming and asking questions, their comfort with the process increases.  The book suggests that many remarkable innovations have in common that the innovator used a sequence of why, what if, and how questions in the development process.

On the whole, this was a really interesting read.  I appreciated the illustrative examples of innovation and their backstories.  I was surprised by the number of times that true innovation happens as a result of someone stepping back from a problem, taking on a “beginners mind” and looking at something familiar with fresh eyes.  It was both unexpected and encouraging to move the conversation away from developing expert knowledge and towards nurturing our capacity to ask great questions about the world we live in.
April’s book is Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani.

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