flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In his book, A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger provides a framework for driving inquiry. As he suggests:

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.

Whether this be a pushing innovation or creating a new product, Berger argues that the process of solving a problem focuses on three key questions: why, what if and how. Like Simon Sinek, Berger begins with why, a focus on seeing and understanding in order to identify any errors or issues. The next step is imagining different possibilities through the what if stage. It all then culminates with ‘how’ we will get the job done.

The book shares many stories from different people and organisations. Within these stories, there are examples of different strategies used to support, strengthen and structure questioning of all types. Here is a list of some of them:

Beginner’s Mindset

This involves seeing things from the perspective of someone who may not know or get what you are talking about. A part of this strategy is taken from the tendency of young children is to ask why again and again. The aim is to be open to all possibilities.

Stupid Questions

Sometimes described as ‘naive questions’, the purpose of this strategy is to explain things more simply. This also provides a means to rethink things.

Habits of Mind

In developing her own school in New York in the 70’s, Deborah Meier created five ‘habits of mind’ or questions which existed at the core of all learning:

  • How do we know what’s true or false? That is, what evidence counts? (Evidence)
  • How might this look if we steppted into other shoes, or looked at it from a different direction? (Viewpoint)
  • Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? (Connection)
  • What if it were different? (Conjecture)
  • Why does this matter? (Relevance)

Like a set of values, all learning should come back to these questions. These are not though to be confused with Art Costa’s Habits of Mind.

Right Question Formation

Following a series of steps, the ‘right question formation’ involves refining a question by breaking them down. Firstly you design a focus, then brainstorm questions, allow for some time to improve them and finally prioritise these. You can find out more at The Right Question Institute, while Cameron Paterson has also written a great reflection about using it in class here.

Vuja De

Unlike déjà vu, where everything we see seems familiar, vuja de is about training ourselves to always look at the world with fresh eyes. Like the beginner’s mindset, the purpose is to be open to new possibilities.

Five Whys

Credited to Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, the ‘five whys’ involves asking the question why five times in a row as a way of getting deep into a problem. Berger describes this as an, “excavation-by-inquiry.”

Opening and Closing

Developed by the Right Question Institute, this strategy involves challenging assumptions by turning a frustrating open-ended questions into a closed question. This can be useful when revising original question.

What If

A brainstorming strategy which helps to develop a range of ideas. It can be used to remove constraints and restrictions, to free up the mind in order to identify the best possible ideas. It can also be used to impose constraints on a particular situation.

Contextual Inquiry

Focusing on the situation at hand, this involves making observations, listening to and making connections in order to better appreciate the context. For this to work, it requires a certain commitment to the question. In some respect, this is what the IOI Process tries to capture in regards to education.

Thinking Wrong

In order to develop those creative ideas that are formed through long distance connections, we are forced to think wrong. This involves mixing and matching different ideas. This strategy allows us to go beyond the obvious and predictable paths.

Word-Combinations

Whether it be random word generators online or cutting up a newspaper article, the idea is to forcibly create new ideas. Although such activities do not necessarily create solutions in themselves, they do help force us to think differently and consider a wider range of possibilities.

Rapid Test-and-Learning Approach

Maybe a physical mock-up or something like a blog, the purpose of the rapid test is to get the idea out there in order to gain feedback as quickly as possible. This is a central tenet of Design Thinking (see the work of IDEO and NoTosh). In her own way, Jackie Gerstein touches upon this with the idea of the iterative and agile learner.

How Might We?

The purpose of ‘how might we’ questioning is “to ask the right question and use the right wording.” Uncomplicated, it helps focus on the task at hand. NoTosh add even more structure to this strategy, ‘how might we action what for whom in order to change something?’

Unusual Perspective

Seeing something from someone else’s point of view can be used to wonder how someone else may approach a problem in order to start a different line of thinking and generate new ideas. Sometimes this includes wondering how a completely different company might respond, other times it might be taking an outsider’s perspective.

Five Years

This is a strategy used to help make decisions based on how the outcome may look in reflection. John Hagel suggests asking the question, “When I look back in five years, which of these options will make the better story?”

Time-Out

Whether it be your tortoise enclosure, a black ops or tech-shabat, the purpose is to find a time and place to digitally disconnect in order to reconnect with the problem at hand. This time-out does not have to be lengthy and can be as simple as going for a walk or having a short nap. As an alternative to this activity is to put your decisions to the side for a day and simply spend the time questioning everything.


 

I think it must be noted that A More Beautiful Question is more than just another collection of strategies. Berger’s book is best understood as a personal inquiry into questioning and all of its different facets. It began with a question, grew into a blog and then turned into a book. One of the greatest lessons learnt is that questions can only go anywhere if we allow them to. For as Berger suggests, “to encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power—not something that is done lightly in hierarchical companies or in government organizations, or even in classrooms.” The challenge then is not only fostering foster questioning, but also allowing them to flourish.

For more information, go to the A More Beautiful Question website or for a different introduction, watch the following.

While for a summary, here is an infographic I made using Canva

flickr photo by mrkrndvs http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/22867976141 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
flickr photo by mrkrndvs http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/22867976141 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license


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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16335681608

I started reading a new book the other day, What Would Gandhi Do by Michael Kirby. In it he reflects on a range of modern issues, such as women’s rights and homosexuality, and returning to Gandhi, wonders how he might respond today.

Viewing a problem through someone else’s point of view is such a powerful exercise when working through a problem. For example, see Alexis Wiggins’ account of life as a student. New to coaching, she spent several days just observing life from a different perspective by sitting through class after class in order to develop a better understanding of where to start.

Seeing something from someone else’s point of view does not, however, always have to be in person. it can also be useful, as Kirby does, to wonder how someone else may approach a problem in order to start a different line of thinking and generate new ideas. Not only are we forced, in this situation, to consider someone else’s shoes, but also what it might be like to wear them.

Warren Berger touches on this strategy in his book A More Beautiful Question. During his discussion of question brainstorming, he describes how Andrew Rossi of marketing firm M Booth stokes creativity by thinking things through from an unusual perspective. Sometimes this includes wondering how a completely different company might respond, other times it might be a person. For example, how would IKEA solve the problem or what would Jay-Z do in this situation? The purpose of this provocation is to go beyond the usual possibilities and open the mind up to unusual combinations. This can be useful in breaking new ground.

Coming at this from another angle, Alan Thwaites approaches point of view and personality with the question, are you Sir Ken Robinson, Professor Brian Cox or Rupert Murdoch to your students? This question stemmed from the growing tendency of schools to ask such questions during job interviews to learn more about the applicant. In his post, he discusses what each would do in the position of curriculum coordinator. He then closes with the question as to who your students see you as?

Extending this focus on how someone else might respond, I often use my idea of various leaders and educators when stuck to wonder what they would approach the problem at hand. For example, when thinking about curriculum and assessment, I have caught myself wondering how Kath Murdoch might approach the problem, while stuck grappling with the ethics of being online I have wondered what Doug Belshaw would think. I also remember at the #GTASYD14 that the question often posed was, what would Sergey Brin do? I am not sure any of these people would actually think or act the way I imagine and to be honest, I will never really know, but this misses the point. The idea I have of them, built over time, merely acts as stimulus for working through challenges in my context.

What about you? What different questioning strategies do you use to think things through? Is there someone who you use as a guide when stuck on something? I would love to know.


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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16232366752

I was recently at Officeworks inquiring about iPad Minis. For some reason the cost had fallen through the roof and I was wondering why? The sales assistant informed me that Apple were basically trying to offload the first generation minis now that the newer version had come out. The catch, they only come in 16gb. This led to that and we ended up talking about storage and how there are so many unnecessary apps that clog things up. He then told me about a ruling in South Korea last year which stated that bloatware, those applications that are placed on the phone before you even get it, must be deletable. Of course, laws in South Korea are different to laws in Australia (or United States), therefore such rulings are yet to be made here. The assistant wondered though whether at some point of time this might not have an influence on mobile computing.

This idea of inherited applications however got me thinking beyond mobile devices and to the classroom, learning and education as a whole. What are those elements that we take for granted in the classroom? Those structures that simply get enacted each day, month, year? Who is making the informed choices? School? Region? Union? Government? You? Do we have a choice to stop and question such things? Should we? Are such habits and structures useful? Essential for things to keep moving? Or should there be a choice about what structures there actually are?

George Couros touched on this in a recent post in which he put out the challenge to see our schools with ‘fresh eyes’. Importantly, this is not just for those practises which we as negative, but everything. Every now and again, we need to stop and ask ourselves the question, “Why do we do this?” Couros also encourages us to also reflect upon our own personal habits and choices. This though, Couros warns, is to no avail if we are not willing to be persuaded into a new way of thinking.

I am not saying that there is not need for process and structure. For as Tom Barrett recently suggested, “By having a simple, clear, and shared process we actually offer some certainty amidst the planned doubt and mystery that is to come.” The question though is whose process is it and who is owning it. As I suggested last year, the new year offers a great opportunity to once again reconsider the baggage in the classroom.


POSTSCRIPT: For more ideas and inspiration in regards to seeing things differently, I also encourage you to read Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.


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