"Always a beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question." - e. e. cummings
Nutmeg hosted a webinar recently which focused on helping folks improve as union leaders. Attorney Eric Brown highlighted the five most common problems union leaders face; the 5th problem he emphasized had to do with listening and questioning. I won’t review the webinar in depth now, but if you’re interested, you can watch a recording here.
Eric’s talk got me thinking all about questioning and the innovative power of inquiry. I’ve personally been off the research deep end trying to discover how to improve my ability to ask great questions and how I can do it without being annoying (child repeatedly asking “Why”) or too philosophical (“what is the meaning of life”)
On my journey I found the book A More Beautiful Question written by Warren Berger in 2014. I’m not even a quarter of the way through it yet, but every passage has resonated strongly with me, especially when viewed through the lens of public sector employees and the challenges they face. Without diving too deep into the details of the book (you can find the book here or here and an audiobook here), Berger does a fantastic job of highlighting how much of the modern day work environment actively discourages questioning - in some cases it can lead to formal discipline (we’ve got your back if that ever happens).
But questioning is the genesis of any innovation, improvement, or change. If we want to improve our lives and the lives of our members, we MUST be asking good questions. The past year has accelerated unprecedented change onto all of us. As the velocity of that change begins to slow and some “normalcy” returns, I propose that our questioning should begin to pick up the pace.
I don’t propose questioning past decisions, armed now with the benefit of hindsight. We can’t change the past, and it won’t win you any points with your employer. I do propose asking the beautiful questions that will shape the future of your work landscape:
If you get the answer, “Because we’ve always done it that way,” you’re on the right track. Keep asking questions and be proactive in hunting for solutions. In the book, Berger offers a framework of “Why?,” “What if?,” and “How?” for developing big, beautiful questions. He makes it clear that it is not a formula for perfect questions (no such thing exists), but it is a good starting point. When things are complex, approaching them systematically can be extremely helpful.
Taking ownership of the future starts with questioning the status quo, even if that questioning makes people uncomfortable. If you need help, guidance, or additional support, we are here to help.