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July 2017


A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

by Warren Berger (Bloomsbury, 2014)


What are the big take-aways?


A More Beautiful Question is a thorough and enlivening “inquiry into inquiry.”  The book insightfully explores how our Western culture relates to questions (and question-askers), and how it could use the inspiring power of well-crafted questions to even more greatly benefit our businesses and our lives.   I share the author’s assessment that our culture is overly focused on answers and does not pay nearly enough attention to the transcendent value of questions.  The heart of Berger’s incisive book is probably Chapter Three, “The Why, What If, and How of Innovative Questioning,” which provides pragmatic guidance for discovering, (re)framing and experimenting with the kinds powerful questions that create transformative results.


Why do I like it?


I’m biased about the astounding potency of good questions, so I like this book.  As a leadership coach, the tools of my trade are open and curious questions that are designed to leverage the strengths and talents of my clients as they work to enhance their leadership effectiveness – through both their triumphs and their growth edges.  For my information and my clients’ I am especially drawn to the chapter on “Questioning In Business” (e.g., Will anyone follow a leader who embraces uncertainty? Should mission statements be mission questions?) and to the chapter on “Questioning for Life.”  The latter addresses topics which are critical for agile leaders:

  • Why should we live the questions?
  • Why are you climbing the mountain?
  • Why are you evading inquiry?
  • Before we “lean in,” what if we stepped back?
  • What if we start with what we already have?
  • What if you made one small change?
  • What if you could not fail?
  • How might we pry off the lid and stir the paint?
  • How will you find your beautiful question?


I like that A More Beautiful Question promotes strengths-based approaches to business purpose and life purpose; and to the extent those purposes are connected, parts of the book – in my opinion – offer superb career-coaching questions.


In what situations would this be useful?


I recommend this book as a modern classic in leadership literature, applicable to any leader or organization.  That said, it strikes me that it might be a particularly positive and refreshing “lifeline” to an organization or leader who feels intractably stuck.  Inquiry – especially the subgenre of appreciative inquiry – is Goo Gone for managerial stuckness!  And while many of us have a natural tendency to reflexively avoid some types of questions when situations seem ambiguous, unclear and confusing, this is when inquiry can serve us best.  As Berger writes (page 186):


If you fear not having answers to questions you might ask yourself, remember that one of the hallmarks of innovative problem solvers is that they are willing to raise questions without having any idea of what the answer might be.  Part of being able to tackle complex and difficult questions is accepting that there is nothing wrong with not knowing.


The notion that “there is nothing wrong with not knowing” is a counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and – in some contexts – subversive idea, indeed!  I will also note here that, by the same token, asking questions without knowing the answers is a central characteristic of effective coaching.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


If, like me, you often consider leadership growth through the lens of adult development theory, an excellent pairing with this book might be Jennifer Garvey Berger’s Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).  For more about leadership and appreciative inquiry theory, I highly recommend Appreciative Leadership by Diana Whitney, et al. (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).


I haven’t read it yet, but if you’re a leader interested in adopting or adding coaching skills to your toolbox, Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, comes highly recommended by some of my esteemed colleagues from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.


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