Book tasting: “A More Beautiful Question” Warren Berger

After quite a long break of writing in English  on the blog, I’m back (you can find a lot of articles on the Romanian page – I’ll translate the most interesting ones and share them here too).

This is the first article in a new series called “Book tasting” – where I will write, but also share short video clips, on the books I love and think might inspire you.

As a coach, my mission is to ask, not to tell. Through questions and supported by a safe environment, deep listening and honest mirroring, the client finds their own path. Every time. But I haven’t always been so fond of questions, nor have I valued them as much as I do now. Or, better said, for a very long time, I thought my life was about “figuring it out”,  coming up with the right answer, and was convinced that my level of happiness would be proportional to the level of certainty I’d be able to reach.

In the first years of life, children can ask between 150 and 300 questions per day. As a mother of a very verbal two year old, I can testify for that. In my conversations with my daughter, I sometimes count strings of 20 questions in a row. Sometimes she has trouble falling asleep at night because a new question comes to her mind. And then another one, and another one.

I have memories of my own early childhood asking countless questions. I was about four when I spent a week’s vacation with my grandmother and aunt in a small thermal resort in the western part of Romania. I remember making the rounds among the other guests at the hotel where we were staying and asking them where they came from, what kind of work did they do, did they have any children and, if yes, how old their kids were. I remember my interrogations being met with smiles and people complimenting my grandmother on my loquaciousness. Then a few more years went by and I went to school. Life changed.

Education instilled in me the belief that there was “somebody” who had the right answers and that knowledge, not curiosity, was the marker of a truly powerful person. I became convinced that there usually is just one “right” answer to a given problem, that asking too many questions meant you hadn’t understood (when others had) or maybe even that you weren’t smart enough, that there is glory to be found in being able to stand up and give that right answer. I thought that success meant knowing as much as possible and, because I was always comparing my own knowledge with that of others, that the one with most answers wins.

It took a series of heartbreaks and then several huge mistakes in the search for the ultimate right answer for my own life for me to rediscover the immense power of questions and to come to the realisation that asking the right question might be thousand times more important than knowing the right answer.

Who am I? What do I stand for? What is a meaningful life to me? What are my strengths? How can I use them to build a profession, a relationship, a life? I am still on my journey to answering these questions and, for the first time in my life, feel perfectly at peace with not knowing every single answer.

Warren Berger’s “A more beautiful Question” is a book that grew from the very successful blog by the same name. He is a journalist (writing for Harvard Business Review, Fast Company or Wired) and, from what I’ve read about him, a perpetually curious man. He interviewed tens of designers, innovators and creative thinkers to try to get to the bottom of what their creative process actually looks like. And he discovered that asking questions is a huge part of it.

The book takes the reader on a beautiful story about the power of questions in our lives. In a world where uncertainty becomes the only certainty, being able to dive into “not knowing” becomes a strength. Berger takes theory and research and interlaces them with case studies that keep you turning every page. You learn about companies that started from a question – such as “Pandora” the online radio station that fully customises the playlist to the listener’s tastes not based on associations, but on a “Music Genome” made up of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, composition and lyrics. Starting from one band or song you love, Pandora creates a whole list of bands you might never have heard of, but will surely like, because their songs share the same “DNA” with the ones you already love. This whole amazing project started from a question: “What if you cold map the DNA of music?”

Berger will accompany you through the world of innovation – showing that many great innovators share a knack for “good questioning” (he makes it clear that not all questions lead to creativity and points out what tells a good question apart from an ineffective one). He’ll take you into the classroom and demonstrate how teaching students to ask, instead of pressuring them to come up with the right answers might be truly life-changing. He points towards some really cool resources, such as The Right Question Institute, which offers free resources for educators, allowing them to transform the way they teach and stimulate students’ thinking. Then he’ll lead you into the boardroom and prove that the art questioning is paramount to effective leadership. Finally, he’ll even prompt you to contemplate your own life and ask some really powerful questions about who you are and what really matters to you.

If you’re curious to measure your own inquiry skills, you go on his blog and find out what your “Inquiry Quotient” is.

The book is a treasure trove of stories, research and, true to it’s name, it will probably inspire you to ask some really great questions along the way.

 

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