Book Review – A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. Part One.

In many marketing and innovation environments there is a big lack of good questioning.

‘Why Don’t Companies Train People To Ask Questions?’ – Warren Berger

qmarkThis is just one of the many great questions that Berger raises in this wonderful book that should be essential reading to anyone involved in product development, innovation or marketing performance. Linking to the themes from Berger’s main website – it explores the role and power of questioning in business, life – and everything. And just as important he examines why is it we seem too often to have forgotten the power of asking the really important questions – just when we need them more than ever? A More Beautiful Question is subtitled ‘the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas’ – and of course in the vast realm of innovation literature, the role of inquiry and problem solving is a common theme. Curiosity (and some would argue friction and argument, as discussed in my interview with Gordon Torr in 2013) is the foundation of fresh ideas and solution.

From Design Thinking To Comedy, From Zen To Lean Start Up

With More Beautiful Marketing Questions Will We Create More Beautiful Marketing Answers?

My own previous reviews and comments exploring innovation thinking have all included links to the work of Scott Berkun, Tom Kelley, Clayton Christensen, Eric Ries and Seth Godin – all of whom are referred to in Berger’s book. Over 246 pages Berger neatly examines the critical role of questions and in the process linking such diverse topics as design thinking, comedy, connective inquiry, Zen philosophy and lean start-up. It is quite a journey – but if you are serious about bringing up the right questions in your organisation, this is a great place to start as it clearly places better questions at the heart of genuine innovation and progress.

Marketing Questions In Marketing Cafes

Over the past few years, whilst running my own MarketingCafes in agencies, corporate teams and conferences I have increasingly recognised the need for better, smarter and more focused marketing conversations which are best built around open marketing questions and a strong spirit of collaboration.

Too often though, our marketing meetings can become shrouded in the language of corporate jargon or lurch towards ambitious brainstorming and the need to quickly move to solutions. In our rush for proving we have launched we fail to consider what has actually happened. Too often we mistake data for insights and launches for success. As we move at hyper speed in an always on culture we more than ever need the valuable time to slow down, think and converse. And, ask the right questions. And sometimes over coffee or on a walk. The more workshops that I run, the more I have learnt that great questions have great power, especially those created from the participants. It is the smart marketing questions that create genuine engagement and insights to the real marketing issues, without blame or fear, without pre-conceived ideas and assumptions.

As Berger puts it, ‘a beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we think about something and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change’. Is that not the best way to truly engage with a problem of marketing innovation and product development? I would argue – absolutely.

Questions And Innovation

Starting with an analysis of why questioning is so important and yet often so missing in our business and personal lives, Berger provides some excellent examples of why a passion for questioning is so vital to innovate. For example, Reed Hastings asked why he was being charged late fees for his DVD rentals and ended up creating Netflix. Edwin Lund questioned why he had to wait so long for his film to be developed and he went on to invent Polaroid. Time and time again, innovation history is telling the story of the people who kept asking why? What if? And how? Many entrepreneurs are often driven by a sense of frustration and just keep asking those annoying questions. Dyson was frustrated with his vacuum cleaner and Branson with the inability to order vinyl albums by mail order. Their ability to channel that frustration enabled them to keep asking why and how ended up building hugely successful business brands that changed their industries.

Does Marketing Ask The Right Questions?

In many marketing and innovation environments there is a big lack of good questioning.

Berger explains this in the context of the education, corporate and leadership systems we often grow up and operate in. Education encourages us to answer, not to question. And in business, why would we trust a leader who kept asking questions instead of giving us a mission and objective? To really be innovative and entrepreneurial we need to step back and give ourselves the time to develop our own curious questions.

We need to ask genuine questions where we do not already know the answers – and avoid marketing deja-vu, where those meetings see the same tired clichés and war stories. We need to turn our mission statements in question statements. Berger points out that whilst Question MINUS Action = Philosophy, Question PLUS Action = Innovation. A curious mind needs to be exercised and developed but ultimately answering the ‘how do we do it’ questions is what truly builds momentum.


This is a great book – thoroughly recommended. You can order it – here.

In the second part of this blog, I ask my own marketing focused questions. What are the marketing questions we really need to ask? How can our meetings encourage better questions? And if you have a beautiful marketing question will it create a beautiful marketing answer?

And what marketing questions do you think we need to ask?

Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

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