Want to be a better critical thinker? Questions can be a powerful way to spot false narratives and “weaponized lies.” Read more about it in this article I wrote for The Atlantic’s Quartz.com.
What’s Your Beautiful Question?
My own beautiful question these days is a compound one:
“How might I continue to learn more about the power of questioning, so that I can share that with as many people as possible?”
After living with this topic for some years now, I’ve realized that questioning is a powerful—and neglected—tool in business, society, and our personal lives. It is also is a huge topic, touching on many disciplines, and I’ve come to understand that I’ve just scratched the surface of it. Luckily, with the publication of A More Beautiful Question, I’m already getting lots of interesting items and thoughts sent to me by others equally intrigued by questioning. My journey will continue with the help of others.
So what about your beautiful question? We all have goals, plans, passions, interests, concerns—and very little time these days. You may be wondering: Why add on a big, difficult, unanswered question?
My whole book answers that question, but here’s some reasons in brief.
A beautiful question can be propulsive, much more so than a bucket list or a page of New Year’s resolutions in a drawer somewhere. If you have one compelling question, it’s harder to set aside, ignore, or forget it.
Articulating a personal challenge in the form of a question also allows you to be bold and adventurous, because anyone can question anything. You don’t have to be a recognized expert; you just have to be willing to say I’m going to venture forth in the world with my question and see what I find. Perhaps your question might touch upon a global social issue or local community problem. Or maybe, instead of an outward quest to transform the world, your beautiful question will focus on creating a more fulfilled, more curious, more interesting you.
Other beautiful questions aren’t personal mission statements, but rather interesting questions that cause you to stop and think and reassess your assumptions. Below, readers have come up with their own beautiful question or are sharing one they’ve come across along the way. If you send me a beautiful question (and why it resonates with you), I hope to showcase it here on this page. Also check out the beautiful questions I’ve collected in the Quotes gallery.
Readers’ Beautiful Questions
Questions about water
Two “Beautiful Q” emails came in the same day, both posing questions about water.
From Kathryn, a high school student in California:
– Will the world ever run out of water?
– Which place in the world has the cleanest water, and which place has the dirtiest?
– How did humans first discover we need water to survive?
And from Zoe Thomas:
Does the lack of interest in water stem from no desire to learn about it or the fear of learning too much?
Those are great questions! I don’t have answers but I recommend you “adopt” them as questions you want to try to answer for yourself. Start with Google, but you probably will only find limited info there; maybe also share the questions with other people you know. The world needs smart people to be asking lots of questions about water, and maybe you should pursue this as a special area of curiosity. Best of luck!
Why do colleges and universities still hang on to traditional grading?
Elementary school principal Dan Pope explains his beautiful question: “At Lone Oak Elementary (McCracken County, Kentucky) we have moved to standards based reporting and no longer use traditional grading. If you dig deep into grading it is my belief that you realize how little that traditional grading prepares students for the real world. A, B, C grades are only used in school settings. The work force uses standards to assess employees.
“The pushback is always ‘Well, colleges and universities need to know who the valedictorian is or how will they assess students or we have to have grade points.’ None of these things apply to real world. If we could move education as a whole away from traditional grading and assessing students by mastery of standards it is a win win for all—truly preparing them for Real World situations.”
Thanks for sharing that beautiful question from the academic trenches, Dan.
How do we know what we know?
New Zealand psychologist and educator Max Gold tells us, “The question behind this beautiful question is: how do we know what we know is true? It questions the basis for our perception of what is real in the world, and therein lies the attractiveness of the question from my point of view.… In the world of complex human relationships and interactions in which I exist as a psychologist, seldom is it the case that truth can be established with any veracity. The best source of knowledge involves triangulating data from a variety of sources and perspectives. That makes establishing how we know what we know in human relationships like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.” And Gold feels that questioning can help with this assembly.
How might I inspire others to see their own greatness so they can live the life of their dreams?
Brand builder and coach Rosemary Breehl reports, “My Beautiful Question is actually my WHY. A few years ago, one of my business associates introduced me to Simon Sinek’s TED Talk about “The Golden Circle,” and how to find and construct your own WHY, and I’ve been working on it and using it since then. In fact, I have helped many others find their own WHY and I teach workshops on that as well. That is why I was so intrigued with the concept of the BQ and was able to put my WHY in the form of a BQ: How might I inspire others to see their own greatness so they can live the life of their dreams?”
What is it about your business today that you can’t answer?
Brian Panosian of Cisco says “I can’t express enough my conviction to quality, thought-provoking questions in my business. I believe this is a craft that everyone should continuously sharpen.” Brian (who asks that Jared Carter be credited as co-author) shares that his beautiful question opens up windows of conversation never before thought of with business executives: “What is it about your business today that you can’t answer?” This brings to mind the kinds of questions that Peter Drucker (“Peter Drucker: The consultant as “Master Questioner”) would ask.
Why do we do what we do?
This question was sent in by George Wang, who wrote me a nice long note, which included “The key to a more purpose-driven life, company, and society can be found in none other than the BeautifulQuestion of ‘Why do we do what we do?’… The question prompts people to be mindful of their habits and develop insight into the purpose of their actions.”
Why can’t the NYC subway turnstile make a nice sound?
An especially quirky beautiful question submitted by James Favata at Leading Authorities speakers bureau, who spotted it in this recent video by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
How might we thrive and flourish amid tensions and contradictions?
Found this question as part of a wonderful essay by Elsa Fridman, posted on the site rethinked.org. Elsa’s essay talks about her desire to “live lightly”—without being weighed down by too many material possessions—while still being able to savor and appreciate meaningful things she has accumulated along the way. But in a larger sense, it’s about the above question—which is a beautiful one.
How do we ask without asking?
Cara Herman of Crush Republic sent in this question. Her point is that in trying to get people to respond to her agency’s research questions, it can be most effective to “have them respond naturally, without thinking (or) filtering their answers.” Which requires asking questions in a whole different way—thereby encouraging people to give more honest, organic responses. Thanks, Cara. And yes, I’m certain we can help each other on our respective quests to “master the art of asking questions.”
What would happen if teenagers believed they deeply mattered to the world around them?
Great question submitted by Annie Murrell (@AnnieMurrell), from the blog A Quiet Mind. I think what would happen if teenagers believed this is that the world would benefit greatly—by being able to tap into an incredible source of energy, creativity, and optimism that could help solve many of our problems.
How can we create resiliency in children such that they grow up to be (happy) contributors to society?
Submitted by Kris on the blog. Great question and while I don’t pretend to have the answer, I suspect one of the things that might help would be to teach them how to ask questions, explore, and solve problems, starting at an early age.
Why is the sky dark at night?
Thanks to Steve Woodward (@nozzlsteve) from Nozzl, the social media site, not only for the question but for this terrific answer: “This question was proposed by astronomers about 400 years ago. The answer seemed obvious, but it actually wasn’t. If the universe were stable and infinite, as everyone believed it to be, there should have been a star at every location in the night sky. In other words, the night sky should have been blindingly bright, not dark. The dark sky became evidence of the Big Bang and an expanding universe—concepts inconceivable at the time the question was asked. Today, that question is known as Olber’s Paradox.”
What if competitors worked together?
Thanks for this idea go to Michelle Riggen-Ransom (@mriggen), co-founder of BatchBlue Software, who says that she when first proposed a version of this question among competing tech companies, it led to the creation of thesmallbusinessweb.com, a network of likeminded companies who share data and try to help small business owners succeed.
What if pizza was good for you?
Robbie Vitrano (@RobbieVitrano), who I know from a marvelous New Orleans ad/design firm called Trumpet, sent in this question, and Robbie is trying to create the answer in the form of his new business, Naked Pizza. Can’t wait to find out what his answer tastes like.
How do we motivate someone to step out into their unique destiny?
Submitted by Diane on the blog. A question that must be on the minds of many parents and teachers.
Why can’t the classroom be a coffee shop?
Thanks to Kenn Compton (@KennCompton) of the CPCC Advertising & Design program for this question, which makes me think of another question: Who says education has to happen only in a classroom? We tend to limit our idea of where “formal education” should be happening, but anyplace can become a learning environment.
How do we unlearn to relearn?
Thanks to my old friend Jim Mountjoy (@JimMountjoy) of LKM creative communications in Charlotte, NC, for this beautiful Q. Yes, indeed: The unlearning part is the hard part. Children don’t have to do that as much as adults, which is why kids have an edge when it comes to questioning and learning. There is a Zen Buddhist concept known as Shoshin, or “beginner’s mind” (I explore this concept more in my book and a bit in this article on John Cage). There’s also something in the business world these days called “zero gravity thinking”—both of which involve setting aside preconceived notions and biases in an attempt to look at things the way a child or a naïve outsider would. Not easy, but apparently it works.
Do we write to turn chaos into a story with a beginning, middle and end?
Thanks to Jane Gross, author of the memoir A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves, for this question.
Why is ‘closing a school’ bad if it basically means not using a specific building for education anymore?
Kersten Wouter writes: “This is a potentially beautiful question, or at least leading to an interesting discussion about which opportunities we can seize if we don’t equate “education” with “school building.” Relevant? Ask people in any area with low population density…