A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas
(2014) is a business psychology book by Warren Berger. The book focuses on Berger’s central thesis—asking more questions can help us solve problems. The book received widespread positive reviews upon publication for its accessible tone and novel approach to problem-solving. Berger is a popular journalist who is also the author of many business and reference books. He is passionate about helping others reclaim their curiosity.A More Beautiful Question
poses a key idea—if we want breakthrough ideas, we need to keep asking the questions no one has asked, or the questions no one has answered yet. It is impossible to find novel and creative solutions to problems if we continue to analyze them from the same position as everyone else. This is something that, according to Berger, great thinkers, entrepreneurs, and inventors have mastered.
Berger recommends that we approach life with the same curiosity we had as children. He laments that children are so often discouraged from asking questions, leading to adults who, essentially, forget how to be curious. If we are not challenging our environment, and if we are not stimulating our creativity, we will always be trapped in the same cycles.
There is a difference between the types of questions that we can act upon, and metaphysical questions that we cannot hope to answer—or, at least, the answers will not serve us in any tangible way. While we may ponder the reasons for our existence and how the universe started, this does not change our day-to-day lives. We are better off considering what Berger calls the “beautiful question.”
Beautiful questions are those that are ambitious in scope but that we can also act upon. If the answer, or even simply the act of asking the question, changes how we think about something, then it stimulates progress. This can be in a business context—for example, a new start-up—or our personal lives. Challenging ourselves to get the most out of life means asking ourselves beautiful questions such as what our dream job is and where we see ourselves in ten years.
Berger challenges the traditional education system we have all been through, and that our children are experiencing right now. The curriculum and the classroom are designed in such a way that students are expected to accept answers they are given and not look “outside of the box.” Instead, children should feel free to ask questions and challenge opinions they do not agree with or understand. This will lead to healthier, creative, energized thought patterns. In a business context, it is well known that the best ideas are breakthrough, novel concepts. However, in most offices, employees rarely question their employers or the job they do. They do not feel their opinion is meaningful or, worse, they do not question anything, to begin with. That is why we must teach children to stay curious instead of nurturing the “one answer is right” idea.
The problem, Berger explains, is that we are in a society that values the answer more than it values the questions. Not everything has an answer, at least not right away, but that does not mean the questions do not have value. Instead, we should be bouncing ideas off each other and rewarding creative thought, even in the absence of concrete answers.
Many people stop asking questions as adults because they are trained to believe that questioning means disobeying authority figures—be those teachers, parents, managers, etc. Asking tough questions makes people uncomfortable, but that is precisely how progress happens. By asking questions, we empower ourselves and those around us. If we ask questions of authority figures, they are forced to justify their position, which might make them rethink it, or stand behind it with greater conviction. Moreover, if someone asks us questions, it makes us look at things from someone else’s point of view
, which can only ever be a positive thing.
Another reason why people do not ask questions is that they do not want to look silly or inferior. That is why breakthroughs are rare—we are all too scared to admit something does not make sense, and we do not ask the questions we should be asking. Berger discusses the inventors and entrepreneurs who, looking at what didn’t make sense, took steps to change it. This is how businesses of the future should operate—they should be, to some extent, a democracy, where everyone can ask questions and contribute.
The growth of Internet search tools, such as Wikipedia, has hindered our ability to ask questions. We take what we read as gospel instead of challenging it and comparing it to other sources. We do not go further than the sources that are already out there, so we do not make any further contributions to a school of thought. This willingness to accept what we are told without asking questions could be why we are not making scientific progress the way many suppose we should.
Ultimately, we should use the tools available to us in better ways. Instead of skimming textbooks and online resources for the information we need, we should take advantage of the wealth of information available and let it drive our curiosity. If businesses adopt a more creative, inquisitive ethos, we can expect more breakthroughs and, in turn, better ideas for everyone.