Excerpted with the permission of the author from Chapter Four of A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger
One of the best ways to grow and maintain a culture of inquiry is to continually add new people who are naturally inquisitive.
Ask the average company leaders or managers whether they’re interested in hiring people who are good questioners and they’ll likely say yes without hesitation.
Yet, when they interview prospective employees, they often make judgments based purely on the answers given— following the “answers only” model of our test-based education system, which does a poor job of assessing one’s ability to question, create, and innovate.
All of which raises this question:
What if a job interview tested one’s ability to ask questions, as well as answer them?
The logical way to achieve that would be to ask interviewees to generate questions. While job interviews often end with the interviewee being asked, Do you have any questions?, that’s treated more as a rote throwaway line, and if anything it invites only closed, practical questions (When would I start? How much travel will there be?) as opposed to thoughtful, creative questions.
As an alternative approach, tell every person coming in for an interview to bring a few questions with them.
Make it clear those questions should be ambitious and open-ended— Why, What If, and How questions are recommended.
These should also be relevant to your company or industry. The questions might inquire about ways the company or its offerings could be expanded or improved; a customer or societal challenge that could be tackled by the company; an untapped opportunity to be explored.
The questions this person brings will reveal a lot about him or her:
- Are the questions audacious and imaginative, or more modest and practical?
- Do the questions indicate that the candidate did some research before forming them (if so, good sign: it indicates the candidate knows how to do contextual inquiry).
To test whether the person can question on the fly, you might ask, during the interview, that the candidate build upon one or more of the prepared questions with additional questions.
For example, if she has suggested a What If scenario, ask her to now challenge her own assumptions with Why questions, or get her to take her idea to a more practical level by generating How questions. This will show if a person knows how to “think in questions.”
If the candidate has come up with at least one interesting question and then improved on that question during the interview, that person is clearly a gifted questioner and is likely a welcome addition to a company’s culture of inquiry.
Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s leading innovators, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. His writing and research on questioning and innovation have appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and Wired. His website is AMoreBeautifulQuestion.com
Note from Bob: I highly recommend Warren’s new book is A More Beautiful Question