The DNA of a master questioner

Guess what’s one of the 5 essential skills great innovators share?

Had a great talk the other day with Hal Gregersen, one of the co-authors of the book The Innovator’s DNA. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it highly: It analyzes the five essential skills that great innovators seem to share (based on thousands of interviews with business executives, including highly creative leaders like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos).

Of course, the reason I’m most interested in the book is that one of those five skills—indeed, the one that is arguably most important because it “turbo-charges” all the others, according to the authors—is questioning. The book has a full chapter on questioning in business, and here are a few of the more interesting points:

  • For leaders of companies to question well, they must have a “combination of self-esteem and humility.” Meaning, they must have enough confidence that they’re willing to appear naïve or stupid, yet also “be humble enough to learn from anyone, even people who supposedly know less than they do.”
  • Innovators tend to ask “what if” questions that either impose or eliminate constraints. (An example of imposing constraints: What if we could only charge one dollar for our product—what would we do differently? And as for eliminating constraints, as Steve Jobs used to say to his engineers: What if money was no object? How would you then design the product?)
  • Disruptive innovators, according to the authors’ studies, tend to have a high “Q/A ratio”—meaning their questions usually outnumber their answers.

Gregersen, who also consults with top companies and is a business professor at INSEAD, has remained fascinated with questions since completing the book. In our talk, he told me about an interesting and ambitious project he’s currently launching, known as the 4/24 program. The idea is, if everyone in the world spent just 4 minutes a day writing down their questions about problems that deeply matter to them (or to their companies, communities, or to the world at large), it would add up to 24 hours of questioning, per person, over the course of a year.

But more importantly, Gregersen believes, it would encourage us to focus more on formulating good questions and help us get better at it—a skill that “could be passed on as a legacy to the next generation.” Gregersen will be debuting the 4/24 website soon (I’ll keep AMBQ readers posted on that) and hopes it will become a space where people can learn about questioning, share stories, and even tackle real-world issues and problems, using questioning as a primary tool.

Find Hal on The Innovator’s DNA website and on Twitter at


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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

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