Good questions can be powerful in life-changing ways. They can spark exciting ideas and inventions. They can spark personal discoveries, which lead to fulfilling, meaningful lives.
According to historian David Hackett Fischer, questions “are the engines of intellect — cerebral machines that convert curiosity into controlled inquiry.”
Author and journalist Warren Berger includes Fischer’s quote in his fascinating book A More Beautiful Question. In it, he shares inspiring, interesting stories of people who’ve asked powerful questions and created innovative businesses and changed their and others’ lives for the better.
He also features important questions about questions — such as why does the number of questions kids ask start declining as they enter school — and questions we can ask ourselves to inspire positive change.
Berger also cites Dan Rothstein of the Right Question Institute, who views questions as flashlights that “shine a light on where you need to go.” According to Rothstein, “Just asking or hearing a question phrased a certain way produces an almost palpable feeling of discovery and new understanding. Questions produce the lightbulb effect.”
Indeed one good question can spark a domino effect of discovery. According to author Stuart Firestein in his book Ignorance: How It Drives Science, “One good question can give rise to several layers of answers, can inspire decades-long searches for solutions, and generate whole new fields of inquiry, and can prompt changes in entrenched thinking.”
In A More Beautiful Question Berger encourages us to pick our own beautiful question. Throughout the book he includes powerful questions others have posed. These questions, I believe, can give us the feeling of discovery and new understanding that Rothstein talks about.
They’re questions that can help to inspire novel perspectives and positive changes in our own lives, big or small. Here are some of my favorites from Berger’s book.
Is there something else I might want to want — besides what I’ve been told to want?
It’s common to make decisions based on what our family, friends and society think. We may even do this unconsciously, adopting others’ views of success and happiness as our own.
Instead of following paths determined by others, author Seth Godin suggests asking ourselves the above question.
When I’m in the bookstore, what section am I drawn to?
This question, from author Carol Adrienne, helps us pinpoint our natural interests. Berger also includes additional questions we can ask ourselves: “What if I could find a way to incorporate these interests/activities, or some aspect of them, into my life more? And maybe even into my work? How might I go about doing that?”
This last question speaks to the sentiment in another question Berger explores: “What if you made one small change?”
What if I fail — how will I recover?
Author, blogger and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields helps people consider this question, because it inspires action, even amid the real possibility that we may fail.
What if I do nothing?
This is another question from Fields. According to Berger, it “underscores that when we undertake an important change, it’s often because we need to change — and if we don’t go ahead with it, we’re likely to be unhappy staying put.”
What if I succeed?
This question also comes from Fields. He notes that our minds naturally tend toward negative thinking. He tells Berger, “So in order to give your mind a chance to latch onto something positive, something that will actually fuel action rather than fuel paralysis, it’s helpful to create some level of clarity around what success in this endeavor would look like.”
What’s truly worth doing, whether I fail or succeed?
Blogger Chris Guillebeau poses this excellent question. It speaks to focusing on the process of a goal or endeavor. Will you enjoy the actual journey?
What do I want to say? Why does it need to be said? How could I say this in a way that’s never been done before?
This series of illuminating questions comes from Berger. After Ben Affleck directed two movies and essentially proved to himself that directing was something he could do, he told an interviewer, “After that, the question became, ‘Okay, you can do it. Now what do you want to say?’”
To discover good answers, we have to ask good questions. We can ask the above questions regularly to help us create a fulfilling life, whatever “fulfilling” means to you.