Fostering a Culture of Inquiry

Photo by Colin Kinner

Photo by Colin Kinner

Recently, I spoke with Warren Berger, author of the best-selling book Glimmer, about his latest project, which focuses on questions. Warren asked, “What do you do to foster a culture of inquiry at Peer Insight?”

Good question. So good, in fact, that I have thought of little else since then. Innovators operate at the boundaries of what is known, so questions are inherent to what we do. Our book, “Designing for Growth,” is based on four questions: What is? What If? What wows? What works? And as I reflect on Warren’s question, I see lots of places where questions have organically appeared in our culture.

Inquiry phrases: Our onboarding process teaches key phrases to open up inquiry. Our three favorites are:

  1. How might we …? (see Warren’s blogpost on this phrase.)
  2. What else is possible?
  3. Tell me more.

Affordable experiments: We keep a running list of affordable experiments, dating back two years, to keep track of little things we have tried, what they cost, and what we learned from them. We review the list every week, at our Monday meeting. These experiments answer the question, “I wonder, will this help us serve our clients better?”

Prototyping multiple options: We follow a strict discipline of prototyping multiple solutions for any challenge. Customers choose among the alternatives, not the project team.

The last one—prototyping—is one of the beautiful paradoxes of design thinking. Because, while a prototype is an assertion about the future, it is also a question, especially when it sits alongside a contrasting prototype. The prototypes ask the user, “Is it more like this … or like that?” And when the user indicates a preference for one of them, we say, “Tell me more.”

Tell us more! When have you found it most valuable to be part of a culture of inquiry?  How do you encourage your friends or family or colleagues to be more curious about the world around them?