A More Beautiful Question [book review]

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One of my favourite questions comes from Shift by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. When looking towards a future, an aspirational future different from the present that currently exists, ask “Where do we already see a glimpse of this?” in order to build on strengths and see opportunities to grow without throwing the entire present away. I use this question in strategic planning, in brainstorming, in much of the facilitation and change work that I do.

So when I picked up A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger I was hoping for similar gems, plus guidance for asking good questions in various general contexts (e.g. staff feedback, coaching, strategic planning). The book was highly recommended to me, and I went in excited, with high expectations.

One this to know about my lens when reviewing books

When I read, I’m looking for either 1) big ideas 2) interesting conundrums or 3) practical tools.

Overall, the book didn’t meet these high expectations.

Nice: It was full of stories, dotted with questions relevant to very specific contexts. However: Storytelling is not a tool that resonates with me (though I acknowledge it does with many), and many of the questions were too topical to be applied in new situations. After the first few chapters I found myself scanning the book, not reading the book. I wanted fewer stories, more critical analysis of good questioning, more general good practice. Because of my shift to scanning, I can’t say that I can give a very robust critique of individual chapters.

Who would enjoy this book?

If you like interesting stories of businesses or people trying to dig into a situation, and appreciate reading how a specific questions moved that specific situation forward, this book has that galore.

If you haven’t given much consideration to the power of a good question, this book gives you a great overview of a variety of examples in which a powerful question was key to moving a situation forward.

The one gem that I can share…

A good reminder: Depending on your situation and your goals, the best question often starts with one of three phrases:

What if? Why? or How?

Not who, or what, or when, or where (my favourite question above notwithstanding).

Can you give some examples of great questions?

Why, yes I can. I’ve done training in dialogue and civic engagement and have examples of “deep” questions at my fingertips. Here are some great ones from the resource The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs. I’d actually recommend it as a concise alternative to A More Beautiful Question, in that it meets my book expectation #3 – practical tools.

  • What would someone who had a very different set of beliefs than we do say about our situation?
  • What question, if answered, could make the most difference to the future of our situation?
  • What’s missing from this picture so far? What so we need more clarity about?
  • What’s the next level of thinking we need to do?
  • What’s possible here and who cares?
  • If our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?