The bookworm chronicle by the CTO & the CMO // Weekly Reading #5 // Noémie Benoit on A More Beautiful Question – The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas – by Warren Berger.

In his book “A Beautiful Question” the journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger is asking how come that we stopped asking? Kids are asking uncountable questions everyday. They question everything and everyone. That is how they learn and discover the world around them. Why are adults not asking anymore?! Berger writes a strong pamphlet for more questions. And shows how companies and individuals succeeded by simply inquiring on the right beautiful questions.

QUESTIONS TO NOÉMIE

Noémie, why did you choose this book?

I chose this book, because my life’s motto since childhood can be resumed by the following question of Berger’s book: “Why should we settle for what currently exists? And why should I believe you when you tell me something can’t be done?”. Many people get annoyed at me for being persistent and by my constant questions. When I heard about that book, I was intrigued and was hoping to find like-mindedness as well as answers.

What is the link between someone’s inquisitive personality, an inquisitive education and a company’s culture of inquiry?

As children we are constantly asking why. But growing up, we loose this gift. To a degree, that in some companies it is not appreciated to ask question or to question the way things are done.

In his book Warren Berger dedicates a part to analysing the link between leaders of top international companies, like Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google, or Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and the school they were coming from, such as Montessori. A school system known for its inquisitive educational system. I enjoyed a similar education and realised, that these types of school are indeed encouraging, stimulating and appreciating a natural behavior of inquire.

By asking “What kind of preparation the modern workplace and society demands of its citizen?” Berger asks a very relevant question about our educational system. An he is not alone. Research suggests, that “this new world demands citizens who are self-learners; who are creative and resourceful; who can adjust and adapt to constant change”.

Our educational system belongs to another time and has not adapted to the kind of society we are today. Same is true for most companies. Instead of rewarding good questions it is common to reward good answers instead. It’s not accepted in our business culture to “not know”. Or as Warren puts it “there is an over celebration of “getting things done” in today’s business environment”.

Warren challenges this culture and states that “Questioning is egalitarian because asking a question doesn’t require authority”.

If you use a questioning program or some kind of questioning methodology, you have to reframe challenges into questions. All assumptions are put into question. Questions bring deeper understanding of the complexity of a situation.

This approach is very much linked to being lean in your process. Generating questions helps people to defer judgment, to think more freely and creatively about a problem. And questioning rallies people together. “The best questions are magnetic and intrigue people to make them want to work on those together.”

What do you take from the book for your daily marketing practice? Is it easy to implement into a company a culture of inquiry?

In his book Berger asks the following question: “Will anyone follow a leader who embraces uncertainty?” And continues: “You can have an answer for right now, but it changes”. Especially in the startup life and even more though in marketing, you have to become comfortable questioning, experimenting and challenging even a working system. For example a channel which brings you relevant leads today, might not work tomorrow. The product-to-market fit is a continuous “questioning” journey in our fast-changing society. So we have to keep questioning by definition in the marketing department. For me, it’s part of the adventure. I have to make sure, that:

    • we have enough questions to work on
    • we prioritise questions
    • we see failure as one step closer to finding out what works for a product/a company

That comes with the challenge of educating a company to learn how to “fail enthusiastically” and efficiently. And to appreciate the experimenting and inquiry culture even and especially in tough periods.

Did you already observe the power of questioning as described in the book ?

When confronted with a problem, questioning and using the “what if” muscle as Berger puts it, makes people step back, think without limits and help each other. I also observe that the better people get in asking questions, the better they get in innovating and experimenting.

Questioning has also the powerful effect to unlock people’s minds. You probably already observed that when you are surrounded by some good questioners you are more creative and more productive. “Just asking or hearing a question phrased a certain way produces an almost palpable feeling of discovery and new understanding.” writes Warren Berger. Every question reshapes connections between synapses in your brain. That has a lot of value in the creative process as well as in the communication of a company. By asking questions instead of judging or complaining, you enable a better communication between colleagues or departments.

How do you generate good questions?

Berger talks about the importance of blank space, about giving your mind time off. Not being busy all the time makes you see more possibilities and releases questions. Taking a break can be a challenge especially for entrepreneurs or startupers! Take me for example: I am so concentrated on my work that it takes me too big of an effort to unplug. However, I found  an alternative. I take a few days to diminish the flow instead of breaking it completely. I de-concentrate myself by reading, tramping, meeting people and relaxing. As well as emptying my mind by letting it all out: Writing down questions, ideas and doubts makes me profit from my holidays even more. As Berger describes it, “the mind is thriving when distracted or unconscious” underlining the importance of doing sport or other let-it-go activities during your work week.

Do you want to give a final note on questioning & leadership?

As a leader I try to support people’s growth by asking them questions. I need to frame my questions in a way that inspires them to find the answers or to ask questions themselves. Becoming better at questioning is one of my most important projects as a leader.  Because if you want to implement a culture of inquiry, start with yourself.

Every Friday our CMO Noémie Benoit and our CTO Daan Depaepe take turns here presenting their weekly reading and telling us what fascinated them about the book and what they took out of it for the company and their personal career.