Beautiful Questions


Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.”
 -E.E. Cummings

The questions we ask largely influences the answers we get. To unearth innovative insights, asking the right questions of not only potential users but of ourselves, consider the power of beautiful questions.

In his book, A More Beautiful Question,  Warren Berger defines a particular type of question:

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.”

Perhaps it’s been our schooling, reinforcing answer driven responses.A popular TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson echoes this antiquated education paradigm. The power of divergent thinking, or lateral thinking, is often fueled by powerful questions.

We’re talking about open ended questions here, non-leading questions, and a healthy report between the inquirer and the master.

Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”   -Pablo Picasso

1. Why? Why does school start at 8am? Why is there so much traffic? Why do people go to the gym? Why questions often have a feeling of naivete or innocence. We grow accustomed to accepting our world in a way that reduces cognitive load and creates a sense of familiarity. But when we start with simple why questions, we set the stage for innovation. The Five Whys Methodology, developed by the founder of Toyota, is simple way to dig deep on an issue.

2. What if? What if school started based on kids sleeping schedules? What if kids slept more at school? What if more of school took place at home? What if kids learned certain things right before bed?

3. How? Once deciding on what you want to implement or achieve, how you go about doing that can also be posed as a question. How do we get parents on board? How do we redesign a school attendance system? How do we let kids sleep more at school?

As simple as it sounds, framing innovation in questions and in this order can and has lead to some of world’s most exciting, meaningful, and breakthrough innovations.

ERAF Systems Diagram

Entities, Relations, Attributes, and Flows.

Systems thinking. Have you ever had to tackle a complex problem? This type of visualization helps clarify relationships between elements within a system. It’s a rather intuitive process that often gets left behind by long conversations.



I recently tried this when consulting  for, a Human Rights organization in NYC. Our conversation had been circling around their multi-sided platform and where users were getting stuck. After drawing it out, we all circled around and the conversation began to dig deeper as we pointed at the diagram.

IMG_0199As you can see above, this diagram only has Entities and Flows, no Attributes or Relations. Something I’ll keep in mind and add next time.


This method was originally learned from the 101 Design Methods Book:
Kumar, V. (2013). 101 design methods: A structured approach for driving innovation in your organization. Pages 146-147. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.