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. ~Warren Berger
Daggers were shot from almost every seat in the classroom as the little girl raised her hand to ask a question. Recess was moments away, and her raised hand could only mean one thing…a delay. The monkey bars and swings would be taken by someone else. It didn’t help that the teacher looked perturbed, too. If only the teacher had considered the importance of the question. As Warren Berger has discovered in his studies, a beautiful question might serve as a catalyst to bring about change, and that annoying hand might be just the catalyst we need.
I’m always trying to learn. I want to learn to speak a new language, why foods cause me to react a certain way, why weather makes joints tight, why my dog seems nervous, how to take better pictures, why some people are mean, and my list goes on and on. I love learning, but I want to make the most of each opportunity, and asking the right questions seems to play a role in that.
This isn’t a book review, but the book A More Beautiful Question has been a favorite of mine for a while now and has inspired me to ask more meaningful questions, questions that can’t be answered necessarily by saying OK, Google to my phone. Maybe you’ll come away inspired to ask better questions, too. Changing the way we think about questioning could change how well we do in our jobs, in relationships, and in life.
Some of the questions Berger shared in his book were the ones that resulted in answers you might already know.
- Why should someone be stuck without a bed if I have an extra air mattress? (that’s how Air BnB was born)
- Isn’t there a way to paint over my written mistakes (the way a painter can)? (that’s how Liquid Paper was born)
- If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot? (that’s how a flexible foot for amputees was born)
It seems that the greatest inventions have been born of someone asking the right questions. As students are returning to school, I think this topic is especially meaningful. Are you a teacher, just pushing to get through the material? Are you a parent who has worked all day and dreads the onslaught of questions from your child as you try to unwind? I want to encourage you to embrace the questions and consider how valuable they are to the questioner and to the listeners. Maybe their questions will result in answers that will change the world in which we live.
Stating facts like our list of New Year’s Resolutions doesn’t really do us much good. In fact, shifting from making resolutions to asking ourselves questions can help us discover better answers, which could change everything. For instance, instead of saying, I want to drink less coffee this year, I could say, What are ways I could help myself drink less coffee? Instead of saying, I need to clean up this mess, maybe I should ask myself, What are ways I could better clean up my mess? Or a big one for many of us might be I need to spend less money! The statement doesn’t really do anything to help me spend less. A better approach might be to ask myself a question — How might I spend less? It sounds so simple, but I think most of us just make our list of things to accomplish and never consider that asking ourselves how we might better do this or that would naturally draw us to a better outcome.
Questions that are open-ended (not easily answered with yes or no) encourage creative ideas in response and are the kinds of questions that educate. As we seek to help young people think more, be more creative, and find their own successes, we can begin by guiding them to ask more beautiful questions instead of shutting down their inquisitive nature. In doing so, there’s a good chance we’ll ignite the questioner in ourselves and find exciting solutions!
Epictetus said, Only the educated are free. It seems to me that the more we ask the right questions, the better educated we will be, and that kind of freedom is something no one can take from us. Let’s ask the beautiful questions and let them be the catalysts for change in our lives and in our world.