A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

by Warren Berger

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet achievable 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.” This is a great book for the military because we often fall in on the same mission statement, the same SOPs, the same strategy without questioning if we are even doing the right thing –or asking the right questions. This book can help us be more effective leaders by taking a step back and asking questions about our organization and ourselves that we then translate into actionable, effective measures.

Q (questions) + A (action) = I (innovation)

  1. The Why Stage: step back and observe a problem/challenge from different perspectives, challenge assumptions, gain a deeper understanding of context, ask “5 Whys” to get a deeper/truer understanding of the situation
  2. The What If Stage: brainstorm ideas with no constraints or limitations, pull ideas from multiple contexts/backgrounds/specialties, make “smart recombinations”
  3. The How Stage: assemble a diverse group of collaborators who don’t fear failure and experiment, identify what went right AND wrong with each experiment, don’t wait for a perfect answer

Berger outlines a more creative mission statement which starts with “How might we…?” This shows the organization is on a journey to achieve this end state and can let members know they are all part of finding the answer – not just executing tasks. Positive questions tend to lead to better answers (ie not “why are we failing” but “how could we do this better?”) Experimentation without a fear of failure is also key, as discussed by Regina Dugan in this TED talk.

Leaders should make time to think without interruption, which includes introspection on their personal lives. He encourages us to identify activities in life that give us purpose and bring happiness. “Looking back on your career 20-30 years from now, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished?” For me, this is that the nation is safer and the Army is viewed both by Americans and the world as a force for good.


  1. Why do we need to identify an enemy to do military planning and procurement?
  2. What is the Army’s real purpose?
    • How might we fight and win the nation’s wars?
  3. Why does racism still exist within the Army?
    • What if you had to do something to earn the “EO bullet” on an OER/NCOER?
    • What if general officer boards included subordinate input?
    • What if the Army made it a requirement to have diversity in every branch and rank?

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