I think if people use that “why/what if/
how” cycle, you can apply it to almost
any problem in your business.
What if your workplace culture doesn’t
encourage that kind of questioning?
Most people understand [its value]
once they get exposed to this idea and
if you point out to them that there’s a
lot of evidence that this works. One of
the things I do in my book is point to
the fact that you can look at all these
innovations in the recent business
world. But you can also go back decades.
I started with Polaroid from the 1940s,
and it was a “why/what if/how” kind
of scenario that led to that innovation.
Then you look at all these billion-dollar
tech startups, anything from Instagram
to Square…. They started with questioning, and their ideas were fueled by this
kind of “why/what if/how” questioning.
Airbnb is another.
I think that the way you get this into
a culture is by showing people, explaining to people that there is real value in
doing this kind of questioning within
an organization. You’re going to surface ideas that never would have been
surfaced otherwise — and there are
actually multiple benefits to it. It gets
people engaged. Even if they don’t think
that it would excite them, once they
start doing it, they get excited. Suddenly
that five-year-old that is still inside all
of us comes out, because we are drawn
to questioning. That’s why we did it so
much when we were five years old. It’s
a thing we were born to do, but we’ve
gotten out of the habit of doing it. We’ve
suppressed that tendency.
Once you allow people to tap into
that, they almost always really enjoy
it — they find it energizing and motivating. If you can get [people] working in
a company to think of some interesting
questions, they will get very invested
in those questions, and they will want
to work very hard to try to find the
answers. So, this is not only [about]
innovation, it’s about motivation.
How can using “why/what if/how” kind
of thinking set an organization apart?
I think any large organization has to do
this kind of thing. They have to question some of the assumptions and ways
they’ve been doing things, because it
will zap energy out of the organization if there’s that feeling of staleness.
Especially today — we live in a time of
innovation and people expect change.
They expect new things. They want
novelty. They want freshness. That all
relates to questioning.
The first step is, you have to question
what it is you’re doing right now. What
works about it? What doesn’t work? Is
it still relevant? Is what you’re doing as
relevant now as it was five years ago? If
not, why? What’s changed? How do you
have to adapt to those changes? Staying
fresh and contemporary and innovative requires that you ask these kinds
of questions on a regular basis, and you
even have to go to the core of your organization or your association in terms of
things like the mission statement and
question that. A lot of times people are
operating by mission statements and
values and vision statements that were
created a long time ago. And they might
not have been updated, or they might
not make as much sense now, or they
might just need freshening.
You talk in the book about the value
of mission questions over mission
statements. How do you think turning
your mission into a question would be
perceived by members of an association
or customers of a company?
I think in most cases they would love it.
The difference between the way someone receives a statement versus the way
they receive a question is pretty significant. A statement is something that is
thrust upon us. Most of us don’t react
that well to statements. Sometimes we
are skeptical of statements. Sometimes
we just resist them, and sometimes we
ignore them. And one of the problems
with mission statements is they are not
Using the Power of
Inquiry for Meetings
In A More Beautiful Question, Warren
Berger maps out a process of inquiry to
spark game-changing ideas for products
and services. Here’s how Berger’s “why/
what if/how” method of inquiry might be
applied to tackle one challenge faced by
meeting organizers: Why is it so difficult
to track attendee engagement? While
organizers can easily keep a record of
who attended each session and collect
their feedback via surveys after the event,
that doesn’t truly capture their behavior
and the quality of their interactions with
presenters and fellow participants. What if:
› There were a way to help meeting participants make valuable connections and
to customize their educational experience
› A tool could store each registrant’s
historical meeting-attendance data, helping attendees to recognize others they’ve
met during past events as well as those
who share their interests and challenges —
enabling them to automatically exchange
their contact information on site in a way
that integrates their social-media profiles?
› Attendees could access a feature on
this tool or device so they could register
and pay for a special event, eliminating
the need for paper tickets?
› Meeting professionals could access
data that captures attendee behavior
during the event for internal use — i.e.,
which sessions were most popular and
had the greatest interaction, which topics
lit up the social-media-sphere, who visited which booths and had a meaningful
exchange, and how many connections
were made with fellow attendees that
had the potential to help them address a
business concern or meet a need? This
would help validate the value of the
event to the organization’s leadership
and inform future programming.
Next, how might this technology be rolled
out? In a badge, bracelet, app, mobile
device? Stay tuned as we follow this idea
up in the October issue of Convene.