“You should sue Google!”
That half-joking suggestion was emailed to me the other day by a friend who’d just seen a new TV commercial for the Google app—a 1-minute ode to the power of a question. Among the lines in the ad:
“A question is the most powerful force in the world.”
“A question can start you on an adventure.”
“A question can spark a connection.”
“A question can change how you see the world.”
“A question can take you anywhere.”
Google’s May 2015 video
Certainly, the sentiment, if not the exact wording, seems very much in line with some of what I wrote in my book A More Beautiful Question—wherein I posit that a “beautiful question” can be a starting point for innovation, can mark the beginning of a personal journey, and can change the way people think about the world around them.
I have no idea if the ad’s creators were in any way inspired by the book—certainly, this general idea about the power of questioning didn’t originate with me and I don’t “own” it. And of course, Google has been a big believer in questioning from the outset; its chairman Eric Schmidt once described Google as a company “that runs on questions.”
So I’m actually glad to see the ad—and to see this notion of “the power of questioning” going mainstream, since that’s my current mission. But I do want to make one point about this ad and how it diverges from my own philosophy of “beautiful questions.”
The ad seems to suggest that all questions are equally powerful—including basic informational queries like, How do I get to Bryce Canyon?, or What song is this I’m listening to?
Readers of my book will know that I consider such queries to be “practical questions.” They are the kinds of questions that we naturally ask every day, and that tend to have a known answer that can quickly be ascertained (often, by typing in the question on Google: indeed, these are the kinds of easily-answered questions that Google “runs on.”)
But are these really the kinds of questions that are apt to “change how you see the world”… or start you on a life-altering journey… or spark some type of innovation?
I think practical questions are very important in their own way, but I don’t think they lead to the kind of powerful transformation that can come from pursuing more ambitious, open-ended questions. Such as: Why does the problem of X exist? What if someone came up with a better way to do Y? How might we find a solution to Z? On a more personal level, it might be, Why am I doing things—in my career, my life—the way I’m doing them? What if I tried a different path? How might I find that path? (Here are some more samples of real-life beautiful questions that I rounded up for a recent newsletter.)
These are the kinds of questions that I refer to as beautiful questions. You can’t just look them up on Google. A different kind of “search” is required. Beautiful questions are beautiful, in part, because they defy easy answers. They must be considered, explored, grappled with, pursued over time.
Ask any innovator about this, or anyone who has embarked on a personal transformation. Did his/her journey to a breakthrough start with a question? In many cases, yes. Was it a question they could easily answer via Google? Not likely.
See my other mentions of Google on this blog