Back in 1976, long before there was a Google to field all of our queries, a young man named Van Phillips started asking the question above, first in his head and then aloud. Phillips felt his future depended upon finding a good answer and no one seemed to have one for him.
After having lost his left foot in a water-skiing accident at age 21, Phillips was fitted with “a pink foot attached to an aluminum tube.” Phillips left the hospital with instructions: Get used to your “new best friend.” Instead, he asked himself Why should I settle for this lousy foot? This question and the many others that followed guided him over a decades-long journey to reinvent prostheses. Phillips’s tireless Why? What if? and How prototyping and questions eventually led to the creation of the FlexFoot, which had its origins in a smart recombination of a diving board, a C-shaped Chinese sword, and the running ability of the super-swift cheetah. In the FlexFoot’s more advanced incarnation as the Cheetah running blade, it’s been used by people to climb Mount Everest and compete in the 2012 Olympics.
The multifaceted Van Phillips “beautiful questions” story is explored in depth in the book A More Beautiful Question.