I first heard of Warren Berger (previously featured on rethinked …* here and here) when he reached out to me several months ago to ask if he could feature a question I had asked, here on the blog, on how we might go about learning to thrive and flourish within the tensions and contradictions that border human existence on his splendid and endlessly fascinating website A More Beautiful Question. (How’s that for a shameless ‘humble brag’?) And then I noticed Warren popping up all over the place with incredibly intelligent and insightful articles on things that keep me up at night and make me excited to wake up in the morning– the power of questions, design, and creativity, to name just a few–on Fast Company, Big Think or Harvard Business Review. Warren is an author, speaker and self-described “questionologist.” His latest book is the wonderful A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (2014). I couldn’t be more excited about kicking off our new interview series with Warren’s interview. It seems particularly appropriate to begin with the answers of a man obsessed by and dedicated to (beautiful) questions. Connect with Warren on Twitter @GlimmerGuy.
What was the last experiment you ran?
I write about the power of questioning. Recently, I looked around at other people and groups who are interested in this subject. They might ordinarily be thought of as my “competitors.” I decided to do an experiment bringing all of us together around a unified event, called “Question Week.” I would say the experiment was a modest success. With most experiments, I think you have to go through iterations, learning as you go; and that’s the case here. I’m going to keep building on this idea of unifying different people and groups around this common theme.
What are some of the things you fear and how do you manage your fear?
Like so many people, I have a fear of failure and rejection. I have come to believe that one of the ways to manage this fear is to have honest conversations with yourself and it starts with asking yourself some questions about your fear. Why do you fear a certain outcome? How likely is that to happen? If it does happen, what’s the worst part of that outcome, in your mind? And if the worst happened, how would you recover? I picked up on some of these questions from the author/entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, who also suggests you ask yourself, “What if I do nothing—what kind of outcome will that lead to?” This tends to make you realize that the real failure is doing nothing. There’s another question I love, which is popular in Silicon Valley—“What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?” It allows your mind to let go of the fear, if only temporarily, and envision the boldest possibilities.
What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to?
Animals. It breaks my heart to see how they are often treated and it delights me to see how wonderful and loving they can be, in spite of it all. (Also, the New York Giants –they break my heart a lot, but they’ve provided more than a few moments of sheer delight).
WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?
Lots of them, too many to single one out. I recently saw a play called “Hamilton” that was a hip hop telling of the immigrant story of Alexander Hamilton; amazing. I recently read the Adam Grant book “Give and Take,” which suggests (very persuasively) that there is incredible power in giving and that nice guys can actually finish first, even in business. In my own work the most provocative idea I’ve come across is the notion that questions are currently rising in value while answers are declining in value.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?
The day I decided to leave my magazine editor job and go to work for myself, as a writer. I thought, at the time, it might be a temporary thing. That was 28 years ago and I haven’t had a proper job since.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?
I think it’s about balancing two things: Enjoying the limited time each of us has and, at the same time, trying to bring something positive into the world, on an ongoing basis. If you can find a way to do both at the same time, then you’re living a good life.
COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?
Keep questioning and learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species and we should take full advantage of it.
WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?
How might I help, in some way, to encourage more questioning?
ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU WOULD RECOMMEND?
Movies: Crumb. Fargo. Boogie Nights. Hud. Books: A Fan’s Notes. Seabiscuit. The Basketball Diaries. Bird by Bird.
THANK YOU, WARREN …*
Tune in this coming Friday for our interview with (micro)adventurer Alastair Humphreys.