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Book Review of "A More Beautiful Question" by Warren Berger

Wednesday, May 17, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Reviewed by Dr. Rhonda Bennett, head of lower school at Battle Ground Academy, Franklin, TN

This book is not a practitioner’s manual specific to school or pedagogy or curriculum. The underpinning concept, the power of inquiry, has much broader application. However, Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question is incredibly relevant for educators and school leaders who deliver educational programs that strive to cultivate innovative thinkers for a future not yet imagined. According to Warren Berger, “Knowing the answers will help you in school. Knowing how to question will help you in life.”

Questioning is the ability to organize our thinking around the unknown, and successful innovators are particularly skilled questioners. Berger began the journey that led to beautiful questions as he completed research on the processes employed by designers, inventors, and engineers to generate ideas and solve problems. Among the world’s most creative and innovative minds, Berger discovered a common propensity for inquiry.  His research revealed that questions were at the root of many great innovations. Berger shares research and examples of innovations that may be traced to a question or series of questions (Gatorade, Polaroid, Pixar, Netflix, and prosthetic feet, to name a few). These authentic stories, sprinkled throughout the book, add interest and relevance to the message and maintain a high level of engagement for the reader.

Berger defines a beautiful question as one that challenges assumptions, inquires about things normally taken for granted, and wonders about new possibilities.

He goes on to suggest that not all questioning leads to innovation. Questioning well and effectively is a skill. Teachers will enjoy the questioning strategies presented in the book. The Question Formulation Technique is described, as well as a system of inquiry – a Why/What If/How sequence of innovative questioning, and both can be intentionally taught. School leaders will appreciate the ideas about questioning in business, including how to frame mission statements (as a question) and create a culture of inquiry in our organizations.

Questioning is fundamental and instinctive. Research varies, but Berger cites a British study that found the average four-year-old girl asks an average of 390 questions a day at the peak age of questioning. Traditional school models tend to discourage questioning and the exploration of curiosity in favor of answers; as a result, children ask fewer and fewer questions as they advance in school. As we move toward an entrepreneurial society, schooling should shift toward a model of inquiry. Berger includes several examples from schools built around questioning. One of my favorite quotes from that section comes from a third-grade student, who said, “What’s different about this school is you’re interested in what we don’t know, not just what we do know.” The takeaway for educators is clear: if the innovators and change-makers of the world are skilled questioners, then what are we doing in our classes to foster more beautiful questions?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is thought-provoking and an easy read, including a nice mix of research, ideas, and stories. There are a number of great references in the book that you may find online. Look up the Right Question Institute and the Question Formulation Technique, and follow the links for more information. You may also find great videos of Warren Berger’s talks about questioning.

The title of the book, A More Beautiful Question, is inspired from the poet, e.e. cummings: “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.”

In the final chapter, Berger questions the reader: How will you find your beautiful question?







Dr. Rhonda Bennett is head of the lower school at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, TN. 


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