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Good Business? Good Question.

question mark

How did you arrive at that assumption?

What can we compare or contrast this with?

Is there another way we can get there? Where is there?

What if?

Why? (Then why again and again…)

When I was young, I got the impression I asked too many questions. I suppose I had some driving need to get to truths, to the heart of the matter. Maybe I thought there was more going on than it appeared or than people seemed satisfied with. I asked “why,” a lot.

”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, author of A More Beautiful Question

There’s a lot of talk about solutions. Designers offer solutions to business problems. Therapists offer solutions to personal problems.

But behold the question!

Socrates was a master questioner whose method of inquiry is a way of eliminating contradictions, requiring you to defend your points or beliefs. The more rigorous the inquiry, the stronger your eventual position will be.

What became known as the Socratic method is older than the hills. But why do we still avoid the kind of questions that will yield more fruitful answers?

One of the questions I ask clients is how they’ll know if their project is successful. Most don’t know how to answer but they want to start the project anyway. The sign of a good creative partner is one who asks questions you might prefer not to answer.

What does success look and feel like?

Why do we define it that way?

Are there other ways we can define success?

Would those new definitions of success change how we approach our project?

This simple inquiry might cause you to stretch. But what if that stretching led to saving money, reaching new customers or causing a beneficial behavior change? Or better, to approaching your industry in a way others are not? You can’t know till you ask.

Questions are free, after all, even though there’s an art to crafting the right ones. Want to test your Inquiry IQ? Even with my questioning history, I surprised myself by getting 9 out of 10 (I doubted my instinct on the one question I got wrong. It’s no accident that intuition is a close cousin to fruitful inquiry.)

The best questions lead us to unexpected places. We often resist the unexpected. Questions spell possible delays. They might require us to rewrite copy, or ask permission to do so. We fear that responding to beautiful questions implies we didn’t have the answers in the first place. We view not having answers as a weakness, instead of seeking answers as a sign of strength.

All of this requires agility and curiosity and enough faith in your own ideas that you welcome having them challenged. At worst, you it will reveal you’re on the right track. You can always decide not to pursue what new ideas come from a good inquiry.

But wouldn’t you want to go there to find out?


If you dig inquiry or want to learn how to ask better questions, you can pre-order A More Beautiful Question, which is due out March 4. It’ll be on my shelf!


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(Image by orphanjones)

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