Bringing beautiful questions to South Carolina

In mid-September, just days after Hurricane Florence swept through the area, I was invited to the Carolinas—specifically, to the University of South Carolina, which has chosen A More Beautiful Question as the “First Year Experience” book that is read and shared by all of the university’s 7,000 incoming freshmen.

The campus in Columbia, SC, was up and running after being briefly shut down by Florence a few days earlier. The sun was shining, spirits were high, and questions filled the air. In one class I visited, for instance, students had prepared in advance dozens of questions to ask me—then proceeded to me pepper me with queries about the art of questioning and its importance in today’s world.

The university had organized a number of campus-wide activities around the theme of the book. For example, there was a Question Contest in which first-year students were challenged to work together to generate ideas and solve problems by asking meaningful questions. Participants submitted a written proposal following the 3-step framework (Why, What If, and How) outlined in my book, with winners to be announced later this fall. Some of the sample questions students were considering: Why does my meal plan require that I eat meals at certain times? Why do I have to declare a major in my first year? Why is it so hard to find a parking spot on campus?

In another interesting activity, design students were invited to design posters for the book. When I visited, about 20 of the posters were displayed on the walls of the university library. Below are three of them, including one (far right), by student Lindsey Lane, that ended up being used as a custom cover for the student edition of book.


The whole experience was delightful and gave me an even greater appreciation of First Year Experience reading programs in general, which are done at many universities and colleges all around the country. (I’ve been fortunate to have two other schools, Bowling Green State College and Quinnipiac University, previously choose AMBQ for their first-year read).

This is the 25th year that the University of South Carolina (USC) has been doing a first-year read program. Each year, the freshmen are assigned the book during the summer and have a chance to read it before school starts. Part of the idea is to create a shared experience, something they can all talk about with each other regardless of which classes they’re taking or what their major might be. In past years, the university has chosen books such as The Measure of Our Success by Marian Wright Edelman, Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple, Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.

In a time when everything seems to be pulling people apart, the common reads programs represent a very worthwhile effort to bring people together around a shared point of reference. More and more colleges have been following the great example of USC (which has been a pioneer in the first-year reads movement) by incorporating their own versions of the program. Here’s hoping that trend continues.

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About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of 12 books, including his three books on questioning: A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas; its follow-up THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead; and BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Transforming Classrooms Into Cultures of Curiosity and Inquiry. Warren’s writing has appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, and he writes the “Questionologist” blog for Psychology Today. He lives in Mount Kisco, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts