Warren Berger: Improve Your Life by Improving Your Questions [Episode #26]

The quality of your outcome depends on the quality of your questions. In this episode, Warren Berger (@GlimmerGuy) and I discuss the importance of asking the right questions, why they’re critical to your success, and how you may be one great question away from a major breakthrough.

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The quality of your outcome depends on the quality of your questions. Through asking the right questions, we can spark innovation and creativity, gain deeper knowledge in the topics that are most important to us, and propel ourselves forward in our personal and professional pursuits.

Yet very few of us do it well — if we do it at all.

My guest on the podcast today is Warren Berger — journalist, speaker, bestselling author, and self-proclaimed questionologist.

His insightful book, A More Beautiful Question, shows how the world’s leading innovators, education leaders, creative thinkers, and red-hot start-ups ask game-changing questions to nurture creativity, solve problems, and create new possibilities.

In this episode, we discuss the importance of asking the right questions, why they’re critical to your success, and how you might be one great question away from a major breakthrough.

You’ll also learn:

  • How Warren manages the constant input and stimulation from online consumption when it’s time to create.
  • The small habits that pack the biggest punch and make the most difference in Warren’s life
  • What makes a question more or less effective
  • How to create a culture where questions are welcomed and encouraged
  • Why answering all your kids’ questions may be doing them a disservice — and what to do instead
  • What “collaborative inquiry” is and how to use it to get the most out of your teams in the workplace
  • How Warren transformed one of his most painful failures into one of his most proud achievements
  • Why Warren insists that everyone is creative, and what we can do to fan the flames of our own creativity

If you think you could improve the quality (and frequency) of your questions to enhance key areas of your life, this is not a conversation you’ll want to miss.



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Show Notes

You’ve gone from writing about business, then design, and now you’re writing about questions. How did you find yourself at this moment in your career? [00:03:12]
Questioning is at the center of design thinking. [00:04:49]
What do you think of the state of freelance journalism today? [00:05:58]
Devaluing of journalistic content [00:07:14]
How do you personally filter and consume journalism and books? [00:08:05]
The enemy of creative: “There’s so much media out there now that I feel like it’s dangerous…” [00:08:50]
React Mode versus Create Mode [00:09:36]
How do you manage React Mode and Create Mode? [00:10:20]
Creating in a (metaphorical) cave [00:11:07]
“I have no choice but to actually create something, because otherwise there’s nothing else to do.” [00:11:55]
Does React Mode have to be in the morning? [00:12:06]
Find a routine that works for the individual. [00:13:46]
Manager’s Schedule versus Creator’s Schedule [00:14:32]
How do you make yourself focus? [00:15:59]
How do you say “no” to opportunities? [00:17:14]
The importance of creating sacred time blocks [00:18:06]
What kinds of things do you regret saying “yes” to? [00:18:46]
Using caution when agreeing to travel to events [00:20:09]
How much reading do you do? [00:20:46]
How do you organize your notes while writing a book? [00:21:58]
Organizing printed papers by subject [00:22:19]
Pruning the subject folders as you go [00:23:54]
Being creative on paper — literally [00:24:31]
The need to see everything in front of you at the same time [00:26:01]
Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary [00:27:10]
Getting Schooled by Garrett Keizer [00:27:58]
Do you stop reading if things aren’t good? [00:28:58]
What would you say is the smallest habit that you have that makes a big difference? [00:29:32]
The importance of outdoor walking (or any slightly immersive activity) [00:30:04]
“Museums are the custodians of epiphanies.” [00:32:45]
What’s the most surprising thing about creativity? [00:33:35]
Creativity and questioning seem to decline as we age. [00:33:59]
“We do not get rewarded for questioning.” [00:37:19]
“Questioning is seen as inefficient.” [00:38:47]
The “uncoolness” of asking questions [00:39:39]
How “knowledge” gets in the way of asking [00:40:45]
Innovation is about being the one who asks questions. [00:41:28]
What’s the relationship between questions and being more creative? [00:41:41]
“Questioning is a tool that enables us to organize our thinking around what we don’t know.” (The Right Question Institute) [00:42:15]
The awareness of what you don’t know. [00:42:40]
The importance of questions for innovators in a variety of fields [00:43:45]
How can you coach people to improve their questioning skills? [00:46:07]
“A good question is a question that’s rooted in curiosity.” [00:47:10]
The value of the outsider [00:48:43]
Why would an expert ask a novice question? [00:51:20]
What should parents or teachers do when children ask questions all of the time? [00:52:42]
Adults aren’t simply “answer machines” for children — but they can be good question coaches. [00:53:34]
Ownership of a question [00:54:54]
What do you struggle with more: questioning others or answering others? [00:56:15]
The problem of giving overly definitive answers [00:56:35]
How do you get a group of people to work on the same question? [00:58:19]
What is collaborative inquiry? [00:58:37]
Mission Statement or Mission Question (“How might we…?”) [01:00:24]
Who had the most impact on you intellectually when you were young? [01:03:29]
Warren talks about what he learned from the reaction to his book Glimmer. [01:05:49]
The seeds of success can be found in failure. [01:09:34]
The problem with being “happy” when you fail. [01:11:25]
What’s a common piece of advice about creativity that you’re not buying? [01:15:38]
Everybody is creative. Don’t separate “creatives” and “non-creatives.” [01:16:04]
The backlash to open-office culture [01:18:40]

People and Things Mentioned

Paul Graham
Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War
Getting Schooled by Garrett Keizer

Learn more about Warren on his website, Twitter, and through A More Beautiful Question.