“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something - and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.” - Warren Berger
The concept of a beautiful question is very quick and easy to grasp. They are well crafted and insightful questions that stimulate the mind into looking at something from a brand new and creative perspective. What makes them beautiful is that they also generate an equal measure of delight, more commonly known as (or felt as) an ‘ah ha’ moment.
Like beauty in other aspect of life, there is a highly subjective scale of just ‘how beautiful a question is’, and this can only be assessed by the impact the question has from person to person. However there are beautiful questions that have sparked some of the most progressive, large and widespread transformations known in any industry…
‘Why aren’t the players urinating more?’
This was asked by a college football coach, and it dawned on him and the coaching staff that the players were dehydrated and not replenishing the water and salts lost through sweat in training. And so Gatorade was created leading to the $20 billion sports drink industry.
‘Why should you be stuck without a bed if I’ve got an extra air mattress?’
Asked by Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky at the end of a long period of reflection and contemplation of other life challenges. Joe and Brian were originally struggling to pay rent but by working through their thought process to solve these issues they arrived at this question and created AirBnB. What they had challenged was the trust dynamic, and the prevailing belief that you needed book with established and reputable hotels / organisations when travelling. The wide reaching effects of challenging that very premise have lead to other great break throughs beyond hotel accommodation, for example ZipCar.
Beautiful questions can be really hard to generate and think up. They require perseverance for practicing the adoption of a different, more open, mindset. A mindset that we are not accustomed to and feels somewhat alien. We need to be able to forget prejudices and build confidence to spend more time outside of our comfort zones just thinking and reflecting - which sounds simple but is very awkward and difficult for some.
With practice, our more inquisitive nature grows and it becomes easier to look at a business or process and challenge the parts that have been taken for granted for such a long time.
There is a similar method of questioning called ‘If X can do Y, why can’t Z?’. It’s a handy way of looking at other industries and challenging the constraints that prevent similar progress in your industry. For example, ‘if Coca Cola can get to the deepest and darkest parts of the jungle, why can’t humanitarian aid?’. I’ve enjoyed using this approach as a good way to get the ball rolling on Beautiful Questioning - there's nothing harder than starting from a blank sheet of paper, so start with some XYZs and build from there.
So if you’ve got any type of innovation activity coming up, or a major transformation / reinvention… i highly recommend training your questioning muscle with a few beautiful questions. Here are some that i particularly like…
Why do cinema tickets cost the same for a good vs terrible movie?
Why do they give you a jaguar to test drive but you can’t sleep in a house you want to buy?
Why do hospital patients get lost when, in retail shops, customer routing is a true science?
Why do we rate and review every aspect of holidays that we go on once or twice a year, but do nothing for credit cards that we use daily?