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GREAT IDEAS: The Book of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger

Lessons from the book, and our interview with Warren Berger

New York-based reporter turned author, and self-proclaimed “questionologist”, Warren Berger, is a regular contributor to Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and the New York Times.

He says the act of questioning can help us to make smart decisions, but they must be the right questions.

Here, lessons from our interview with Warren on asking more, and better, questions.

Questions are great for decision making, creativity, connecting with people and leadership. They get you to slow down, check your thinking, check your biases.

Release your inner Steve Jobs by asking visionary questions:
  • “How can we become the company that would put us out of business?”
  • “How might I make tomorrow visible?" 
  • "How can we brace ourselves for the third wave?" 
  • "If an oracle could tell us about our business five years from now, what would we ask?"
  • "What is our vision question (not statement)?" 
  • "What would the seventh generation think about what we're doing?" 

Leaders should ask themselves "Am I doing enough ambulatory inquiry?” That’s walking around asking questions. You learn a lot more and you energise others. Make your questions honest and rooted in curiosity.

Avoid “why” questions when talking with employees. It can have a confrontational edge. Instead of “Why are you doing this?” try, “I’m curious, what’s led you to take this approach?”

Always shift the perspective. Avoid being trapped in biases and a fixed mindset. Try asking “Why do I think that way?” “What would be the opposite approach to this?” It forces you out of the box.

Ninja thinking is a better term than critical thinking. It suggests blocking and parrying with ninja skills.

Interviewees can ask better questions in job interviews. “What do you think is driving this industry trend?” It’s more impressive than “How many holidays do I get?”

When considering a career move, think far into the future. “Can I see other examples of people who’ve risen up in this organisation who are like me?”

A good salesperson is always trying to ask “What is your pain or challenge?” Instead of being across the table, think of yourself as working beside your customer.

A sales call should be 80%-90% questions. The less you’re talking about your product or service the better.

You can offer your company's products or solutions as a question: “What do you think of this possibility?” “We’re working on this product, how would this fit with your challenge?”

Research shows a 4-year-old will ask between 100-300 questions a day. That reduces as they go through school. Evidence suggests that asking more questions will improve their learning.

Google is a mixed blessing. To be a questioner you need to realise that Google is not enough; it’s the first stop on a journey.

Download Warren’s PDF of printable question cards to get a list of suggestions for any occasion. 

Warren’s GREAT EIGHT, eight getting to know you questions that we ask all our authors:  

Recommended book: Educated by Tara Westover, who grew up in difficult conditions where her family kept education away from her.

 If you could co-author a book with anyone who would that be, and what’s the book title? Adam Grant, author of Originals and Give and Take. The title?  A Curious Book.

What’s a great piece of advice you can share? Don’t give so much advice. We all tend to tell people too much advice, what to do all the time. Ask questions instead. “What have you tried so far?” “Which idea do you like the best?” “What could you do to start on that tomorrow?”

What’s been your lowest moment, and how did you recover? I had a book that was a big failure, a total dud. I was expecting great things, but it didn’t go anywhere. I was very dejected by it. I recovered by asking myself “What can I learn from this?” And one of the chapters was about questioning. And, so I wrote that into a book, and I did more self-marketing, and it became a bestseller.

How do you relax? I watch TV, I’ve become a Netflix junkie. Also, I walk in the woods. To really think you need to get away from distractions to hear your own thoughts. I think everyone should do it.
What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you? A fun fact is that I was once a small town reporter in Carolltown, Texas, (pop. 120k) and people think of me as a New Yorker. It was fun, a great experience.

What’s the secret of success? Keep an open mind and ask a lot of questions. It’s all about being a learner and an adapter. One of the ways to do that is by questioning.

What’s a prediction for 2025? I think we’re going to see people become better questioners, because we’re starting to see educators train children to become more inquisitive.

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