In Search of a More Beautiful Questions
In his book, A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger provides a framework for driving inquiry. As he suggests:
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.
Whether this be a pushing innovation or creating a new product, Berger argues that the process of solving a problem focuses on three key questions: why, what if and how. Like Simon Sinek, Berger begins with why, a focus on seeing and understanding in order to identify any errors or issues. The next step is imagining different possibilities through the what if stage. It all then culminates with ‘how’ we will get the job done.
The book shares many stories from different people and organisations. Within these stories, there are examples of different strategies used to support, strengthen and structure questioning of all types. Here is a list of some of them:
This involves seeing things from the perspective of someone who may not know or get what you are talking about. A part of this strategy is taken from the tendency of young children is to ask why again and again. The aim is to be open to all possibilities.
Sometimes described as ‘naive questions’, the purpose of this strategy is to explain things more simply. This also provides a means to rethink things.
Habits of Mind
In developing her own school in New York in the 70’s, Deborah Meier created five ‘habits of mind’ or questions which existed at the core of all learning:
- How do we know what’s true or false? That is, what evidence counts? (Evidence)
- How might this look if we steppted into other shoes, or looked at it from a different direction? (Viewpoint)
- Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? (Connection)
- What if it were different? (Conjecture)
- Why does this matter? (Relevance)
Like a set of values, all learning should come back to these questions. These are not though to be confused with Art Costa’s Habits of Mind.
Right Question Formation
Following a series of steps, the ‘right question formation’ involves refining a question by breaking them down. Firstly you design a focus, then brainstorm questions, allow for some time to improve them and finally prioritise these. You can find out more at The Right Question Institute, while Cameron Paterson has also written a great reflection about using it in class here.
Unlike déjà vu, where everything we see seems familiar, vuja de is about training ourselves to always look at the world with fresh eyes. Like the beginner’s mindset, the purpose is to be open to new possibilities.
Credited to Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, the ‘five whys’ involves asking the question why five times in a row as a way of getting deep into a problem. Berger describes this as an, “excavation-by-inquiry.”
Opening and Closing
Developed by the Right Question Institute, this strategy involves challenging assumptions by turning a frustrating open-ended questions into a closed question. This can be useful when revising original question.
A brainstorming strategy which helps to develop a range of ideas. It can be used to remove constraints and restrictions, to free up the mind in order to identify the best possible ideas. It can also be used to impose constraints on a particular situation.
Focusing on the situation at hand, this involves making observations, listening to and making connections in order to better appreciate the context. For this to work, it requires a certain commitment to the question. In some respect, this is what the IOI Process tries to capture in regards to education.
In order to develop those creative ideas that are formed through long distance connections, we are forced to think wrong. This involves mixing and matching different ideas. This strategy allows us to go beyond the obvious and predictable paths.
Whether it be random word generators online or cutting up a newspaper article, the idea is to forcibly create new ideas. Although such activities do not necessarily create solutions in themselves, they do help force us to think differently and consider a wider range of possibilities.
Rapid Test-and-Learning Approach
Maybe a physical mock-up or something like a blog, the purpose of the rapid test is to get the idea out there in order to gain feedback as quickly as possible. This is a central tenet of Design Thinking (see the work of IDEO and NoTosh). In her own way, Jackie Gerstein touches upon this with the idea of the iterative and agile learner.
How Might We
The purpose of ‘how might we’ questioning is “to ask the right question and use the right wording.” Uncomplicated, it helps focus on the task at hand. NoTosh add even more structure to this strategy, ‘how might we action what for whom in order to change something?’
Seeing something from someone else’s point of view can be used to wonder how someone else may approach a problem in order to start a different line of thinking and generate new ideas. Sometimes this includes wondering how a completely different company might respond, other times it might be taking an outsider’s perspective.
This is a strategy used to help make decisions based on how the outcome may look in reflection. John Hagel suggests asking the question, “When I look back in five years, which of these options will make the better story?”
Whether it be your tortoise enclosure, a black ops or tech-shabat, the purpose is to find a time and place to digitally disconnect in order to reconnect with the problem at hand. This time-out does not have to be lengthy and can be as simple as going for a walk or having a short nap. As an alternative to this activity is to put your decisions to the side for a day and simply spend the time questioning everything.
I think it must be noted that A More Beautiful Question is more than just another collection of strategies. Berger’s book is best understood as a personal inquiry into questioning and all of its different facets. It began with a question, grew into a blog and then turned into a book. One of the greatest lessons learnt is that questions can only go anywhere if we allow them to. For as Berger suggests, “to encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power — not something that is done lightly in hierarchical companies or in government organizations, or even in classrooms.” The challenge then is not only fostering foster questioning, but also allowing them to flourish.
Originally published at readwriterespond.com on November 7, 2015.