How Questions Can Spur Innovation and Business Growth: A Q&A with Author Warren Berger

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Warren Berger is a bestselling author and an expert on innovation. His book “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas” has become a classic manual for innovators as they seek answers to today’s most challenging questions. Eric Ries, the bestselling author of “The Lean Startup” said this about Berger’s book: “In the old economy, it was all about having the answers, but in today’s dynamic, lean economy, it’s more about asking the right questions. “A More Beautiful Question” is about figuring out how to ask and answer the questions that can lead to new opportunities and growth.”

I recently caught up with expert questioner Warren Berger in order to ask him a few questions.

How do you define what makes a question “beautiful” or valuable?

Berger: I define a “beautiful question” as being a big, ambitious question that is also actionable and that has the potential to bring about change, the potential to shift the way people think about a problem or to change their behavior. Each of these elements is important.

An ambitious question might be, “Can we re-think the way we’ve been doing this policy or this procedure we’ve done for years? Is there a way we might do it differently?” The actionable part is really important too. A beautiful question is designed to be worked on. You don’t need to have the answer right away or even for quite a while, but getting there involves work. Then the third part is the potential to bring about change: if you come up with an answer, it’s going to change the way your business operates or it’s going to change the way people behave. To me, those are the 3 elements of a beautiful question.

What is the value better questioning can offer for business leaders?

Berger: In the world we’re in right now, change is a constant because of technology, globalization, and other trends, so you have to be more adaptable than you would have been 20, 30 years ago. That’s where questioning becomes important for managers of all types of businesses. That habit will enable them to keep stepping back and looking at what they’re doing and asking, “Are we really doing the right thing? Does this still make sense now? It might have made sense five years ago, but does it make sense now? If it doesn’t, what could we do differently and how would we start to go about that?”

That kind of questioning habit is going to make you a better manager. Not only that, you’ll want to model that behavior for the people who work for you — and then you can build a really curious, smart operation.

Why has questioning been so undervalued in business?

Berger: It starts when we’re in school, and we get rewarded for getting the answers right on a test or when you raise your hand. That continues in business. You get promoted based on the solutions you come up with or the ideas you come up with. There’s a sense that all the value lies in the answers.

I agree with that. The only thing I’m saying is that you need to be asking better questions. What people sometimes don’t realize is that answers don’t come out of the blue. They only come if you’ve been asking the right questions and working on them over a period of time. But you must start with the right questions.

Read the Full Interview here.

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Chuck Leddy
Chuck Leddy is a humble, intellectually curious, and fast-learning digital content developer/writer in Boston with a focus on employee engagement, leadership, and wellness. As a content developer, he's worked for B2B clients such as ADP, GE, American Express OPEN Forum, Cintas, Office Depot, the National Center for the Middle Market, and more.