Report review: The Art of Powerful Questions

| Helen Sharp

Title: The Art of Powerful Questions

Published by: Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown, David Isaacs

Published: 2003

“Much of Western culture focuses on having the ‘right answer’ rather than discovering the ‘right question’.”

I recently wrote a blog for the Ideas Hub which examined the way we host conversations with our communities and proposed a new approach to the questions we asked. I have since come across this fantastic publication which pushes us way beyond my initial ideas towards a complete rethink on ‘what’s the question we should be asking?’ and what we should consider when creating it.

This report introduces us to the notion of the powerful question, one which generates curiosity in the listener, energy and new possibilities – and once you start understanding how this could be, you begin to realise how much our current use of questions can hinder us and the communities we work with, closing down creativity and innovation at the first line of inquiry.

This guide will teach you how to develop your own powerful questions and what factors come into play as well as giving you a whole host of examples which have been previously developed by experts and players in the field. Something that has stayed with me since reading is how much our assumptions and beliefs can come across in our questions and how important it is to become aware of them and use them appropriately. This has significant implications when considering how we hold conversations in areas we assume to be ‘deprived’.

Other noteworthy gems include:

  • the importance of helping people to shape their own questions since they know their own situation the best of anyone (page 4).
  • spending time with colleagues when formulating and critiquing your questions to test them out (page 5).
  • how powerful questions can be used in a range of settings from organisational development to leadership.
  • and as always – the space for learning and reflection and more learning and reflection (page 10).

Interestingly, this guide includes many evocative anecdotes and live examples from the private sector and they each resonate powerfully with some of my experiences and practice in the public sector. It seems there is so much to learn and question…

“Human systems grow toward what they persistently ask questions about.”

David Cooperider

Photo by Emily Morter

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