Warren Berger:


067 – the Answer is …a Question with Warren Berger

Warren Berger:


067 – the Answer is …a Question with Warren Berger

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In this episode, author and journalist Warren Berger joins us to discuss his book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry in Sparking Breakthrough Ideas, which examines the ways in which deep questioning fuels innovation. Warren has contributed articles and stories to The New York Times, GQ, New York magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, and was previously magazine editor for CBS and contributing editor for Wired.

  • How questioning leads to innovation and why Warren believes the best innovation is fueled by an endless cycle of questioning at every stage
  • The benefits of both informed and uninformed questioning and how these differences interplay within different work cultures
  • How to get into deep questioning within the constraints of existing processes and routines

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • How to use combinatorial thinking and sharing questions with other people, colleagues, and experts to learn perspectives and arrive at solutions that others hadn’t necessarily looked at before
  • How ‘Why?’,‘How might I?’ and ‘What if?’ questions help to create new realities by combining things that don’t typically work together
  • How to develop the habit of asking questions as a leader, and how to encourage your colleagues and team members to question with courage, curiosity, and focus

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Summary

In this episode, author and journalist Warren Berger joins us to discuss his book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry in Sparking Breakthrough Ideas, which examines the ways in which deep questioning fuels innovation. Warren has contributed articles and stories to The New York Times, GQ, New York magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, and was previously magazine editor for CBS and contributing editor for Wired.

Warren Berger

Innovation expert Warren Berger is a longtime journalist with the New York Times, Wired, and Fast Company and the best-selling author of six books. He shows how innovators and dynamic companies harness the power of inquiry—one of the most effective forces for igniting change in business and life. He has studied hundreds of the worlds leading innovators, red-hot start ups, designers, and creative thinkers to analyze how they ask game-changing questions, solve problems, and create new possibilities.

What Was Covered

  • How questioning leads to innovation and why Warren believes the best innovation is fueled by an endless cycle of questioning at every stage
  • The benefits of both informed and uninformed questioning and how these differences interplay within different work cultures
  • How to get into deep questioning within the constraints of existing processes and routines

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • How to use combinatorial thinking and sharing questions with other people, colleagues, and experts to learn perspectives and arrive at solutions that others hadn’t necessarily looked at before
  • How ‘Why?’,‘How might I?’ and ‘What if?’ questions help to create new realities by combining things that don’t typically work together
  • How to develop the habit of asking questions as a leader, and how to encourage your colleagues and team members to question with courage, curiosity, and focus

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Welcome to The Innovation Ecosystem podcast. With me today is Warren Berger, who is the author of six books including the most recent More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. Welcome to the show, Warren.

Thank you, it’s great to be here.

So, Warren how did you come to be interested in questions as a subject?

Well, part of it goes back to the work I was doing for most of my career which is a journalist. So, I was a reporter for many years and asking questions was part of my trade, a tool of my trade, it was something I did every day, but I hadn’t thought that much about it. It’s a funny thing, when you go to journalism school no one really teaches you how to ask questions. You would think it would be the number one thing they would teach you and it really doesn’t get taught much anywhere even in journalism school, so I always took great care with my questions for my interviews but then a different thing happened about, I would say, six or seven years ago. I was writing a lot of articles about successful innovators and product designers, creative people, I was writing for magazines like Wired and Fast Company, and I noticed that a lot of these people were big believers in the importance of asking questions and so I started to dig into that and realized that from their perspective, questioning was very closely aligned with innovation, which to me was a real breakthrough. I’d never thought of questioning that way. I always thought, ‘Well you ask questions in order to pull information out of people’ or ‘You ask questions for yourself just so you can learn and figure stuff out’ but I never really thought about a link between questioning and innovation, so, that became a thing I became very interested in and I decided that that would be the focus of my next book and that led to the book A More Beautiful Question which is really about questioning in general but I would say the primary focus of the book is about how questioning leads to innovation.

And what is the answer to that question, how question leads to innovation? What’s the causal relationship?

Well, if you look at a lot of innovations like the internet or Airbnb or various products, the microwave oven, whatever, you know, I could name a million things, if you look at them and then you trace back through their origins, you trace back to the origin of that particular breakthrough, very often you will arrive at a person who is asking a question and usually the person is asking a question about, ‘Why hasn’t someone come up with a better way to do X?’ or ‘Why are we still having so much trouble with this problem of Y?’ or they might be asking ‘What if you were to take this new technology and apply it to this particular situation?’ So, I found that when I would trace back stories like that there was always a question at the root, and I think the reason why there’s a question at the root is because innovation is usually about changing the status quo but before you can change the status quo, you have to question the status quo. It’s almost like the question comes before the breakthrough. The question comes before the answer. The innovation, in the end, is an answer but you’re not going to get to that answer unless you start with questions, and you have to get to the right question, and then you have to work on that question and the question may evolve over time, may lead to other questions and then finally at some point you will have an answer, and the answer is the breakthrough. The answer is the innovation but even then, the questioning doesn’t end because usually the answer you come up with only lasts for a certain amount of time and then you have to start questioning all over again like, ‘Why isn’t this great product of ours satisfying people anymore and what do we need to do to update it?’ or ‘How do we need to change?’ So, I just found it’s sort of an endless cycle where innovation is fueled by questioning at every stage.

Because there are quite a lot of myths, I guess, in the general world of innovation. I think one of them is the myth of the Eureka moment which I certainly don’t buy into and it sounds like you don’t buy into it either. Instead of having-

No.

Someone waking up with that wonderful new answer or an idea-

Yeah.

They’ve actually been probing consistently for many, many months or in some cases years for those answers, right?

Yeah, I think so. I think the Eureka moment if there is a Eureka moment, it often arrives in the form of a question.

Yes.

So, the Eureka moment might be you saying, ‘Hey’ – you know, you’re in the shower and you say ‘What if we did this? You know, we’ve been having this problem, what if we did this?’ and at that point you don’t really have the answer, you don’t really know, that may turn out to be a harebrained scheme, it may turn out to be an idea that has no legs at all, that won’t go anywhere, but nevertheless it has to be investigated and it has to be explored and in order for that to happen it has to be asked, it has to be put into the form of a question and put out there into the world. So, I think that’s kind of a very big, very important thing about questions, is that they’re really good for sharing. So, a lot of times when you are pursuing a possible innovation or an idea and it’s in the form of a question, you can put that question out there into the world, you can share it with your colleagues or other people or other experts and you can start to get feedback immediately, like, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting problem, we’ve thought about that too’ or ‘Have you looked at this angle on it?’

Yeah, well, I’m glad you mentioned that because the second myth which we all read about or hear about is that there’s a deep expert who comes up with an innovation but as you refer to in the book, to this concept that Einstein was a big believer in, this idea of combinatorial thinking, and I guess as you say, what you said earlier on about the importance of sharing and that the fact the question enables that sharing, that taps into the ability to combine existing technologies or different disciplines to actually come up with a solution that others hadn’t necessarily looked at before?

Yeah, that’s a big part of what you can do with questioning is you can connect different ideas and different influences and do that kind of combinatorial thinking. I find that I tend to use certain question stems a lot or preach the power of certain types of questions. I’m a strong believer in ‘Why?’ questions, I’m a strong believer in ‘What if?’ and I’m a strong believer in ‘How?’ questions, particularly you can phrase how questions as ‘How might I?’ or ‘How might we?’ but I like those three types of question. Now, when you talk about combinatorial thinking, I sometimes think of that as connective inquiry. You use inquiry to try to connect different things. Well, when you’re doing that kind of thinking or questioning, ‘What if?’ questions are very powerful because you will tend to say ‘What if I took this idea from the film industry and I combined it with this problem we’re having in our business? What can I learn from that?’ or you might say ‘What if we’re in the accounting business but what if an artist were to look at our situation that we’re trying to deal with here, what might that artist think about that?’ or it can even be as simple as – what I’ve noticed is there are products invented that are hybrid products where someone puts wheels on something that didn’t have wheels before, a suitcase, and it simply starts with asking ‘What if a suitcase had wheels?’ and then you begin to work on the practical issues of that or how do you do it and where do you attach them and how do you make it work. But the ‘What if?’ questions are really important for opening up your mind to realities that don’t exist and one of those alternate realities involves combining things that don’t normally go together.

Now, people listening to this might say ‘OK, I get this but what’s the big deal?’ and I guess, my question to you, because I know how hard it is to ask good questions, or I certainly feel that asking really good questions isn’t straightforward, so why is it so hard to ask good questions? What’s stopping everyone from having these waves of breakthrough just by asking these ‘Why?’ questions or these ‘What if?’ questions or these ‘How might I?’ questions?

Well, I think a couple of things stop us. One is that we just don’t think it’s that important to do it. We’re very focused on getting things done and we tend to be accepting of the answers that are currently part of our work so we are accepting with the current routines, the current systems, the current processes, and so most of our time is spent trying to work within those processes to just do things faster or to just get done the thing I have to get done today so I can meet the deadline, so I can hit the target, so I can do whatever I need to do. Within that way of working, there’s not a lot of room for questioning, there’s not a lot of room for saying ‘Hey, I’m going to step back and I’m going to ask why am I doing it? Why are we using this process that we’ve been using the last fifteen years?’ There’s not a lot of room for that so, I think an effort has to be made to, at least, occasionally train oneself or one’s organization to engage in that kind of behavior because it’s not automatic, it’s not on the schedule, it’s not something we will do unless we make an effort to do it. Another issue with questioning is that what I just described, you could say, is a time issue, right? Who has time to ask questions, because we have to get stuff done? Another issue, I would say, has to do with insecurity around questioning, the idea that if you ask questions about accepted things you may look foolish because people say to you ‘Well, that’s the way we do it, don’t you know?’ If you say why are we doing it this way, you run the risk of being criticized for that and saying ‘What are you naïve? Don’t you understand? How long have you been in this business? Why don’t you understand that that’s the way it’s done?’ So, there’s a certain amount of courage necessary for anyone who’s going to question accepted practices or beliefs or ways of doing things. So, those two things, the fact that there’s no time and the fact that it takes a little bit of nerve to do it, that’s what will tend to keep people from doing this unless they make the effort, and then if they make the effort, what I believe, and I’ve seen some examples of it, is that it will start to become more habitual. Once you get past those hurdles and you start to, as it may be as a culture, start questioning more, then it becomes part of the way you operate and then it’s second nature.

And you mentioned, Warren, you started your career as a journalist and, I guess, it’s job number one for a journalist to ask questions but what about people sitting in the corporate world at the moment thinking about, ‘Yeah, this is interesting. What could I do to actually start practicing this?’ How can people start developing this muscle of becoming a good questioner?

Well, one of the things that I’ve tried to work on as I’ve been working on this is developing exercises around questioning. There are some good exercises you can do that are question storming techniques, question formulation techniques, that can be really good for warming up those muscles. I have some stuff on my website www.amorebeautifulquestion.com that is about different exercises, different things you can do. There’s also a group called The Right Question Institute that has developed a really effective question formulation exercise that companies can use. If your listeners will just look them up on the internet, Right Question Institute, you’ll be led to their website, but they have some great exercises that are, basically, you can take a group of people and just practice formulating lots of questions around a problem in the same way that you would do brainstorming. It’s really just like brainstorming but it’s question storming, and you can do simple things like that to get the muscle activated, the questioning muscle activated. Beyond that, I think it’s just a matter of trying to develop a habit on your own for doing it as an individual. Try to stop yourself from time to time and ask questions about what you see on your way to work, or what you see when you’re doing your job, or what you see when you get some information at work or you get data. Ask questions about it in a more thoughtful way. We all know how to ask questions. It’s not so much that you have to be taught how to ask questions because we kind of have that skill, we’re almost born with it, it’s something we have as children and so, it’s not like you have to really be taught how, you just have to give yourself permission to do it and then try to develop a habit of doing it, and then within a company, I think it’s about, first of all, letting people know within your teams, within your whole organization, that it’s OK to ask questions because the fact is a lot of people may have questions and they’re not quite comfortable asking them because they don’t know how those questions will be received in the company. So, if you want to get people questioning more, and I think it’s very beneficial for almost any business to do this because it’s going to generate ideas, it’s going to generate fresh thinking, it’s also going to make people more engaged in their work, so there are lots of good reason to do this as a business, but in order to do it you have to give people permission. You also have to be willing to accept that they may ask questions occasionally that you don’t like. That’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. They’re going to ask questions that you think are not relevant or that you think are maybe disrespectful or something. So, what I say to cultures and companies then is, if you’re worried about that then your responsibility is to train those people and give them guidance on the kinds of questions you’re really looking for and they will pick up on that, and give them guidance on the fact that, ‘We want questions, we’d like questions, but we really want them to be focused on problems that we’re having as a company or ways we can get better’. And then another thing you can guide your people on is to say ‘Well, we like questions but we want questions to be asked in a very thoughtful, respectful way, so, if you’re doing that, if you’re going to be asking questions, try to do so in a way that’s not’ – you know, sometimes people can get kind of obnoxious with their questions, they just want to bark out ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ You almost have to encourage and train people to say ‘Hey, this is not about attacking. Questions are not a vehicle to criticize or attack or whatever or complain or grumble. That’s not what it’s about. Questions are about allowing you as an individual to express your ideas and the things you’re wondering about so be sure to phrase it that way and word it that way. Make sure people understand that your questions are coming from curiosity and that you’re genuinely interested in them.’ So, these are all the kinds of, I think, guidelines, that a company can give to people if they want to encourage a culture of inquiry that really works, that’s really functional.

Because the data in the book, the examples you give are very compelling. You refer to the fact that Google, as described by its chairman, is a company that runs on questions, and then there is this wonderful research done by Christensen which makes a clear link between innovative executives and the amount of questioning that they actually do, so there’s a strong business case as an individual leader as well as for the company perspective that this is a muscle that’s worth building in the organization.

Yeah, there’s no question about it. It’s now seen as, for leaders, one of the most important qualities that a leader can have, the ability to ask questions, the willingness to ask questions in front of others, curiosity. Leaders are now expected to be curious, they’re expected to be inquisitive. This is new, this is something new. This doesn’t go with the traditional image of a leader who we always in the past thought of as a person who was very sure of himself or herself but usually himself and so, we tended to associate leaders as being the person with the answers, the person that we would go to and they would have the answers and questioning just didn’t really figure into it. But I think everything’s changed now and I think now, the complexity of running an organization today, we realize that there’s no one person that is going to have the answers to running a successful organization now. Now, the leader is more a person who can bring together a lot of great thinking from around the organization and from outside the organization so, in order to do that the leader has to be an inquisitive person, has to be asking questions of everyone within the organization and asking questions on behalf of the organization, and so it’s become really, really important for leaders to do this. Now, a lot of them are not quite comfortable in that role yet. I think there are still many old-school leaders who still feel like ‘This is a waste of time asking questions, I just need to get answers. Who has time to sit around and ask questions? So, those leaders are still, I think, adjusting to this new world and this new way of thinking but I think they are going to have to do it and if they don’t then they will be replaced by leaders who are comfortable questioning and who are able to adapt and change and keep up with this insane world were in now.

Yeah, and there’s a distinction which you make in the book, but you don’t really dig into it too much but there’s a distinction between informed and uninformed questions, and I just wonder if you could say a little bit about that because clearly, I guess, if you’re running a business with competing responsibilities, there’s a level of, you have to be informed about a lot of things but also on the other hand you’re, I don’t know, let’s take an example, you’re on the board of a company where you have certain fiduciary or governance responsibilities but you don’t have that level of detail, you’d probably be more of an uninformed questioner. I just wonder, how does that distinction play out in terms of the kinds of questions or the way to ask questions, whether you’re an informed versus an uninformed questioner? Is there a distinction?

Yeah, there’s a big distinction and I think both are valuable, that’s what people may not realize. People may think only the informed questioning is valuable but in fact uninformed questioning is also quite valuable and you need both, and that’s why on a board you might have some people who are very, very steeped in the industry that you’re in but it might also be wise to have a couple of people who are not steeped in your industry occasionally weighing in on things because they will bring a fresh perspective, they’ll bring an outsider perspective that is often lacking. It’s often lacking in the business world. We all get very steeped in our own expertise and our own ideas, our own ways of thinking, and what gets lost when we do that is the out-of-left-field idea that can sometimes really change things so, I think we need both kinds of thinking, we need both kinds of questioning. The uninformed questioner plays the role of the beginner’s mind within an organization so, the uninformed questioner is the one who will ask, when everyone is trying to figure out how to take a five-step process and turn it into a three-step process and everybody is just struggling with that, the uninformed questioner is the one who will ask why we’re using this process at all, and it’s very valuable to have someone do that from time to time. Again, most of us are too close to a problem or too close to a situation to be able to do that and so, an uninformed questioner can do that. On the other hand, informed questioning is really important and if you’re going to encourage questioning in an organization, you want people to be mostly, I would say, asking informed questions. You want them to be thinking about a problem, doing some research, finding out what’s going on, and then asking a question based on what they’re learning and basically coming to the leaders of the company and saying ‘Hey, you know I’ve been doing some research on this new technology that some people are using in our industry and I’ve discovered it’s good for this, that or the other thing. Have we thought about this? Have we thought about using this?’ So, that would be an informed question where the person has actually done their homework and given it some thought so, I think you do want to encourage that, you do want to encourage that kind of questioning as well.

Yeah, in the book there are some great examples, I love Andy Grove’s question, ‘If we were kicked out of the company, what do you think the new CEO would do? You’ve got questions from some of the icons of, particularly, the tech industry over the years and how they use questions. You’ve mentioned Bezos, you’ve mentioned Jobs, you’ve mentioned Google, but there are also a couple of other companies, Gore, and Steelcase, which come up in the book. I’m just curious, what does an inquisitive culture, perhaps, in more mature, long product lifecycle, a non-tech business actually look like? How would you characterize an inquisitive culture in that sector of the economy?

I would say they’re all different. This is still a new way of thinking and a new idea and everybody is kind of finding their way and developing their own systems and cultures for doing it. If there are some common elements out there then I would say, first of all, it starts with the leadership, I think what you see in whether it’s Gore or Steelcase or any company, it almost doesn’t matter what industry they’re in, it starts with the leadership of the company making a decision that this kind of thing matters, OK? it’s really not just questioning. Questioning to me is part of a collection of ideas that are all related to each other. You could substitute the word creativity for questioning and we’d be talking about pretty much the same thing. You could substitute the word innovative thinking for questioning. It’s all related, it’s all tied-in with one another so, it’s about a company first deciding that they believe in that stuff, and some companies do, and some don’t, and maybe for some companies, not every company has to embrace this kind of thinking. There are probably some companies out there, maybe there are less of them than there used to be, I would say they are probably less and less, but probably there are some companies out there that have figured out some systems and processes that just work and they really don’t need to be very creative or they don’t need to adapt very much, they’ve got a nice formula going and they can run on that for quite a while, and maybe they’re willing to do that and they’re just willing to see, you know, ‘We’re just going to have our people execute the processes that we’ve developed and not really ask questions about it, we just want them to get it done. We’re going to give them some deadlines and they’re going to hit them and that’s the way we’re going to operate.’ So, it may be there are companies that can operate that way, but I do think for most companies that’s not the way it works anymore. The business place is too dynamic, there’s too much change going on, competition is too intense and consumers, if you are a consumer-facing company, consumers are more demanding than ever. If you’re a B2B company, then your customers there are more demanding than ever. Everybody’s more demanding and everybody has more options than they ever had before. So, basically, it’s a different business environment now and it’s one that I think really demands creativity, innovation, and therefore questioning because questioning gets you to creativity and innovation. So, I think it starts with the leadership of the company saying ‘OK, we believe in this. It’s not going to come easily, we are going to have to take some steps to create a culture that is innovative and one of the things we’re going to have to do is give people a little more freedom, and that means the freedom to question and it also means we may have to train them a little bit. We may have to guide them on how to use their creativity and their questioning muscle more effectively.’

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Fascinating. I’m curious, you touched on it earlier on, about the power of a question because you can share it and you can collaborate, you’ve got a new book coming that you’re working on at the moment, what question are you holding as you work on this new book, Warren? What’s the edge of your knowledge on this subject at the moment? How would you characterize that?

Well, what happened with the first book, I was somewhat general, it was trying to put forth the concept that questioning is really important and that it’s tied to innovation but it was not getting too much into specific areas and I found that when I would talk to people about the book they would say ‘Yeah I totally agree with this. Now, I have a specific situation and I want to know how questioning will help me?’ and I found that most often it fell into four areas, and the four areas were decision making, creativity, leadership, and interpersonal relationships. I found that people were asking ‘How can I ask better questions as a leader? How can I ask questions that will spur creativity? How can I ask questions of other people without making them mad?’ That’s the interpersonal part. ‘How can I ask questions in a way that opens up dialogue as opposed to creating tension?’ So, I decided to focus on those four areas, decision making, creativity, leadership, and relationships. I decided to focus on how questioning impacts those four areas, what kinds of questions seem to be effective and powerful within each of those four areas.

Yeah, yeah. And the book, how far is it from hitting the press? Because a number of these areas are very close to my heart, I’m curious as to when it will be on the shelves?

Yeah, it’ll be out at the end of the year, I believe around November of this year. It is done, it is written, and it’s called, the first book was A More Beautiful Question, this book will be called The Book of Beautiful Questions, so, I would say the difference is this will have more actual questions in it whereas, the first book had a lot of questions, but it was also kind of explaining why questioning is so important. This book will have more, actual hundreds of questions that are examples of the kinds of questions that can work in a given situation.

Excellent, excellent. Wonderful. So, Warren, we could go on for ages here but I’m mindful of time. I sent out three questions in advance for you to reflect on.

Right.

First one, what have you changed your mind about recently?

Oh, what I’ve changed my mind about recently, and it came out of the research for my book, is that I should stop giving advice and I haven’t followed this yet, I’m not very good at it but I think I’m going to try to work on it. One of the things I discovered in my research was that giving advice is something we all do too much of and a lot of people don’t follow advice anyway. For instance, when you tell your coworker ‘You should do this’ or when you tell your spouse ‘Oh, here’s what you should do about that problem.’ We all do that a little too much. A lot of times the advice we’re giving is not as good as it could be and, oftentimes, the person on the other end doesn’t really want to hear, they don’t really want to be told what to do. So, what I discovered is that it’s much more effective to use questions to help people find their own, give themselves advice. In other words, use questions to guide them through whatever the problem they’re having and say, ‘Have you thought about possibilities, ways to possibly approach this problem? and ‘What ideas have you thought of?’ and then the person will say ‘Well, you know, I’ve thought of A, B, and C’ and you can work them through their own ideas, you can lead them through their own ideas and it’s much more effective than giving them your ideas or your advice.

Well, as you say, they own the solution and you’ve helped them-

They own the solution.

And they can-

Yeah, so, that’s a thing I’ve changed my mind on because I was like everybody else, I’ve always been someone who felt ‘Oh, you should give people advice, it’s a nice thing to do, it’s a good thing to do’ and now I’ve kind of changed my mind about that.

OK. Great. Second one – where do you go to get fresh perspectives to help you solve problems and make decisions, for instance?

I go to blogs all over the internet. There are some blogs I particularly like, there’s a blog called Brain Pickings-

Maria?

Maria Popova.

That’s it.

And there’s a lot of podcasts, and what I tend to do is I follow a lot of creative thinkers that I like. There may be someone like Adam Grant or Daniel Pink that I admire and then I will look for what they have to say, I’ll look at their latest writings, their latest books because I admire the way they think. A site like Farnam Street, that’s a great site. So, I go to a lot of these sites and podcasts and blogs so, that’s one source. I think I tend to use myself as a source of trying to come up with fresh ideas by going into the woods and walking or just going into my own private space to try to think because I feel like a lot of times, and this is kind of counter to what you’re asking about, I think a lot of times we’re looking for ideas from outside and we’re looking for inspiration from all around us but a lot of times, it’s inside us, you know what I mean? We’re almost getting bombarded with ideas every day and what we really need to do is look inside ourselves for inspiration and ideas, and a lot of times we don’t do that. We’re just sort of constantly marinating in other people’s ideas and all the stuff that’s out there on the internet, and so, I really think that if you want to be inspired, take a break from all that and take a break from all that stuff you’re reading and seeing and being influenced by and just go somewhere quiet and force yourself to think, and it’s amazing what will happen when you do that.

Yeah. I was wondering whether you were going to talk about museums because, in the book, there’s a lovely quote, ‘Museums are the custodians of epiphanies’ and I just wondered whether it was a place for you?

It is. Well, there’s an interesting thing about that. That line actually came originally from George Lois who is a wonderful designer and he said that to me one time and I thought it was a great line, so I use it all the time now. Yeah, ‘Museums are the custodians of epiphanies.’ And the reason why, is there are two levels to that quote, there are two parts to it. The museums are there taking in all the epiphanies that artists have had, basically, and they’re showing them to you, and then when they do that, you may have epiphanies yourself so it’s really wonderful. But the reason why museums are so great is because when we’re in a museum we’re seeing things but we’re still thinking, you know? We’re still thinking for ourselves as we’re walking around. Very different from going to a play or a movie where you become completely absorbed in the play or the movie and you’re not doing any thinking of your own really except about the plot, so, if you want to go somewhere or do something that will stimulate your thinking, go someplace like the woods or a museum or someplace where you can be exposed to something interesting but it’s not so overwhelming that it will shut off your own thinking and your own creativity. That’s the sweet spot for creative influence.

Yeah, I guess, you can create your own narrative whereas if you were at a movie, you’re following it.

Yes, exactly.

Lovely. Excellent.

By the way, I put social media in the same class with the movies.

Yes.

When you’re on social media, all you’re doing is reacting to stuff that’s coming at you and so that’s not a good place for you to be doing your own creative thinking.

Yeah, I wasn’t going to say it but I will now. You refer to a number of blogs that I follow and these are our own little bubbles that we live in and sometimes it’s quite useful to burst them or at least extend them with some very counter positions because otherwise all that happens is, well, were in an echo chamber, of course, aren’t we?

Yeah, or you’re just bouncing from one to another and so that’s the key thing. Those sources of influence are all great and I use them, but I think the key is to know when to step away and let the stuff sink in.

Yeah. Got it, got it. And a final question, Warren, what’s your most significant failure or low and what have you learned from it and how you applied that learning?

Well, I had a failure with a previous book that didn’t do as well as I had hoped, and the publisher had hoped, and we had high hopes for it. It was a book about design thinking and it did OK and the people who read it liked it, but they had thought it was going to do very well and it just kind of went out there into the world and just kind of quietly went away and so, initially I was very upset about that and I think what I initially wanted to do was run away from that situation and just act like the book had never happened and just move on and not think about it again and then, I realized that there was an element of the book, there was an aspect of the book that people were very interested in, and that I might be able to do something with, and that was actually a chapter within the book that had to do with questioning so, I extracted that chapter and I decided to think about could I do my next book based on some of the stuff that was in that chapter, just kind of blow that out into it into a full book, and it ended up being A More Beautiful Question, and it’s done quite well so, I think the lesson, for me, that’s in there is, don’t be too quick to run away from failure and to put it away somewhere where it can never be seen again because there may be things within that, there may be seeds of a future success within that failure. There may be things you can learn from that failure or that you can extract from it that are actually quite valuable, and so, I think that, for me, that was a big lesson.

Now, in the depths of that difficult time when you hadn’t got the results you were looking for, was there a question that you asked yourself that triggered the insight that gave birth to the new route following questions?

Yeah, I think I was asking myself what worked and what didn’t work within this project. At first, I was asking ‘Why did this happen to me?’ which is what everyone asks when something bad happens, like, ‘Why, why did this happen?’ and then if you look at it, if you really try to answer that question instead of just saying it in a pathetic way ‘Woe is me, why did this happen?’, if you really try to answer that question and you say ‘Oh, OK. Why did this book maybe not do as well as it could have been?’ you start to realize that there were strengths and weaknesses and maybe the weaknesses overshadowed the strengths but that doesn’t mean the strengths aren’t valuable, that maybe you can pull those out and do something with them and highlight them in a way that maybe they weren’t highlighted before. So, I think to me the question was really about what worked here, what’s worth preserving or what can I learn from this situation so that the next time I can do better.

Brilliant, brilliant. Excellent. So, we touched on it, you mentioned the name of your website and we’ll put that in the show notes, Warren, but where can people get in touch with you if they’ve got any specific questions or they want to follow your work? Is it the ‘a beautiful question.com’?

I have two sites. One is www.warrenberger.com and that’s more for speeches and workshops and things of that nature, and then I have the site www.amorebeautifulquestion.com which is really more about all of my questioning articles and blog posts, just lots of stuff, much of the interesting stuff you can learn on the subject of questioning, you can take an inquiry quiz and there are all kinds of fun stuff on there. So, one is more just the general site about questioning and the other is a little more about me.

Wonderful. Well, we’ll put them in the show notes, along, I think, you’re reasonably active on Twitter as well, as I seem to remember?

Yes, I’m @glimmerguy, that’s one word, @glimmerguy.

Excellent, and we’ll put that all in the show notes and, you know, I was very keen as I said at the beginning to have you on the show given that it’s such an important topic and one that, as you say, is becoming more and more important but it’s also challenging leaders who are educated in the traditional MBA School of Thought where they’ve got to have all the answers, it’s a hard topic for them to get their minds around so, really helpful insights from you as to how leaders can embrace this new way of doing business or leading, and I’m sure my audience will have enjoyed it as much as I have. So, many thanks for your time, Warren.

Thank you, it was great talking to you and hope to talk to you again soon.

Great. Have a good day. Bye.

OK. Bye-bye.

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