“What’s the most powerful question you know?” Children ask hundreds of questions a day as soon as they can speak. But in grade school, questioning “drops off a cliff,” according to data from the 2009 U.S. Nations Report Card.
Why does this innate skill fall away as we move through school and into careers?
If curiosity and the ability to ask good questions are essential to innovation and problem solving, why aren't we putting more emphasis on fostering and utilizing this essential, innate ability? How would you answer this question? This week is Question Week 2015, a week (and a great site!) dedicated to inspiring more of us to become good question-askers!
Various thought leaders in business, media, and psychology respond to this question on a fascinating website I recently viewed. Journalist and author Warren Berger has zeroed in on the power of questioning in our lives. He has interviewed and studied hundreds of the world's leading innovators, designers, and creative thinkers to analyze how they ask fundamental questions, solve problems, and create new possibilities. In his book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Berger challenges us to ask the questions that can lead to actions, change and innovation. (The title comes from a quote by poet E. E. Cummings: “Always the beautiful answer/who asks a more beautiful question”).
He suggests that a questioner can move forward on almost any problem or challenge by first trying to understand it (Why is this a problem?); then imagining possible solutions (What if I came at the problem this way, or that way?); and finally trying to figure out practical ways to turn those what-if ideas and possibilities into realities (How might I actually begin to make this happen?)
Is this sequence of Why/What If/How might we… something you might practice and model in your work with youth, volunteer groups, or colleagues? Berger offers a wide variety of tools and resources to support this practice of questioning. If you’d like to read more about why kids are master questioners, check out Curious kids: What makes them question so much?
I hope you’ll be challenged by this two-minute video about the value of curiosity and questioning: Rubik’s cube: A question, waiting to be answered. It is a call to nurture the next generation of “scientists, engineers, artists, designers, inventors, or something no one’s ever been before… but you can bet we’re going to need,” (It honors Budapest-based educator Erno Rubik on the 40th anniversary of his Rubik’s Cube, created in 1974).
How will you help others fall in love with problem solving? How might you practice Berger’s idea of Why/What If/How might we…? I invite you to share your ideas and your beautiful questions.
-- Anne Stevenson, Extension educator and Extension professor
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