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Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life

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2018 Nautilus Book Awards Silver Winner What if you could unlock a better answer to your most vexing problem—in your workplace, community, or home life—just by changing the question? Talk to creative problem-solvers and they will often tell you, the key to their success is asking a different question. Take Debbie Sterling, the social entrepreneur who created GoldieBlox. The idea came when a friend complained about too few women in engineering and Sterling wondered aloud: "why are all the great building toys made for boys?" Or consider Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, who asked: "would it change economic theory if we stopped pretending people were rational?" Or listen to Jeff Bezos whose relentless approach to problem solving has fueled Amazon’s exponential growth: “Getting the right question is key to getting the right answer.”   Great questions like these have a catalytic quality—that is, they dissolve barriers to creative thinking and channel the pursuit of solutions into new, accelerated pathways. Often, the moment they are voiced, they have the paradoxical effect of being utterly surprising yet instantly obvious. For innovation and leadership guru Hal Gregersen, the power of questions has always been clear—but it took some years for the follow-on question to hit him: If so much depends on fresh questions, shouldn’t we know more about how to arrive at them? That sent him on a research quest ultimately including over two hundred interviews with creative thinkers. Questions Are the Answer delivers the insights Gregersen gained about the conditions that give rise to catalytic questions—and breakthrough insights—and how anyone can create them.

357 pages, Kindle Edition

Published November 13, 2018

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About the author

Hal B. Gregersen

16 books18 followers
Hal Gregersen is committed to creating insight with impact. As the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Chaired Professor of Innovation and Leadership at INSEAD and a senior fellow at Innosight, a consulting firm based in Watertown, Mass., he pursues a lifelong vocation of learning how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new strategies, develop the human and organizational capacity to realize those strategies, and ultimately deliver positive, powerful results. Putting insight into practice, Gregersen regularly delivers inspirational keynote speeches, motivational executive seminars and transformational coaching experiences. He has worked with a diverse set of companies to help them master the challenges of innovation and change, including Accenture, Adidas, Aramex, Cemex, Christie's, Cisneros Group, Coca-Cola, Daimler, Essilor, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, LG, Lilly, Marriott, Nokia, Philips, PwC, Randstad, Sanofi-Aventis, Time Warner Cable, Twinings, Young Presidents' Organization, and the World Economic Forum. He also serves on the advisory board and HR Committee at Pharmascience (a privately held pharmaceutical company based in Montreal, Canada).

Gregersen's most recent book, "The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators" (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011) uncovers the code for the successful innovator in business -- and beyond. Unlike other books that help organizations simply maximize execution, "The Innovator's DNA" demonstrates how execution alone can become a dead-end destination unless you cultivate enough competent innovators within your company to make crucial new discoveries. Co-authored with Jeff Dyer at Wharton/BYU and Clayton Christensen, the best-selling author of "The Innovator's Dilemma" at Harvard Business School, "The Innovator's DNA" comes from an eight-year study on the origins of disruptive innovations and how executives, entrepreneurs and employees build highly innovative companies. In collaboration with HOLT at Credit Suisse, Gregersen and his co-authors identified the 50 most innovative companies in the world and interviewed their founder entrepreneurs and current CEOs. They also surveyed more than 5,000 high performing entrepreneurs, managers and inventors to see how the Innovator's DNA skills led to the creation of hundreds of successful new products, services, processes and businesses. His presentations are packed with examples of high-profile innovators (as well as low-profile ones) that illustrate not only how they got great ideas, but how they transformed them into economic powerhouses as well. The book, which was named Book of the Year for Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Chartered Management Institute in association with The British Library, builds on the ideas found in Gregersen's Harvard Business Review (HBR) article of the same name, which received the 2009 McKinsey runner-up award for the best article in HBR.

Gregersen has co-authored ten books, including "It Starts With One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations" (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008) and "Global Explorers: The Next Generation of Leaders" (Taylor & Francis, 1999). He has published more than 70 articles, book chapters and cases on innovation and change in leading business journals such as HBR and Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. His research has been highlighted globally on CNN and in magazines including Across the Board, Bloomberg Businessweek, Chief Executive, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

Before joining INSEAD in 2006, Gregersen taught at the London Business School, Tuck School-Dartmouth College, Helsinki School of Economics, Brigham Young University and Turku School of Economics as a Fulbright Fellow. Gregersen also works extensively with governments and educational, not-for-profit and NGO organizations around the world, such as Teach for America and Room 13, to generate greater innovation a

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 45 reviews
Profile Image for Alexander Rivas.
378 reviews14 followers
December 14, 2018
I think the subject matter is essential, but the writing to me was just dull, like a cost accounting class. Anyways, it seems that setting the stage to generate questions and then unpacking those questions is a worthwhile venture. It will take a lot of planning, use of your and others time, resources, and probably more things I am missing. The strategy used and proposed in this book is one few people will do mainly because of the effort it takes to do it correctly, but if done the results can be amazing.
77 reviews
September 30, 2019
I really liked this book. He does a good job of showing you how getting the right answer is dependent on asking the right question. The question is, therefore, more important than the answer. To make meaningful progress you have to ask questions that make you feel uncomfortable. You have to get feedback from people you might not even agree with. Those people, though, will make you look at the problem differently and allow you to see solutions you might not have thought of otherwise. He recommends an exercise where you invite people in and, for four minutes, everyone brainstorms questions. No answers. Then the person who is evaluating a problem uses those questions to find the best answers.
11 reviews
December 30, 2018
When I first heard Hal Gregersen describe his maxim, “Questions are the Answer,” at the 2018 MIT Sloan CFO forum, I was underwhelmed. Wasn’t this just common sense? Who doesn’t use questions to scope out potential solutions to problems? How could this possibly be a “breakthrough approach?”

But Hal then gave specific examples of people who had used questions in specific ways to solve problems. He told us about Fadi Ghandour, the founder of Aramex, a logistics and transportation firm, who decided to have a delivery driver pick him up at the Dubai airport instead of a limousine ahead of meetings with local management. Questioning the driver about local operations, he learned about problems that his local management team had not seen.

Then there was Rose Marcario, a private equity executive who began to question her career direction after catching a glimpse of herself in the window of her taxi when she was fuming about being stuck in traffic. She later quit her job, became CFO of Patagonia, the apparel company, and was appointed CEO of Patagonia five years later.

Then Hal had the audience form small groups to run a “question burst” exercise. He posed a problem – how can your organization become a stronger strategic partner is a world of digital transformation? – and gave each group about five minutes to come up with a list of questions that would help address this question. After the time was up, he asked whether the initial anxiety that each of us had felt when he posed the question began to melt away as we built out our question lists. The answer for me and for all of the members of my group was yes.

Hal’s presentation piqued my interest; so I was happy to claim one of the copies of his book that he offered to conference attendees. Although I was still somewhat skeptical, I found much more in the book than just the maxim. Hal describes in great detail and from different angles the often difficult task of instilling a culture of questioning within an organization (and within ourselves).

The exercise of power can impede the questioning process. Children often get signals early on in school that their questioning is frowned upon, especially by teachers who are teaching to standardized tests who do not want their lesson plans delayed by responding to individual questions. This bias against questioning also carries through later in life to many organizations, including the military and corporations that have operating procedures and rules. To break through these barriers, many organizations try to institutionalize the questioning process – for example, Pixar’s Brain Trusts – to challenge their thinking and avoid blind spots. Like Fadi Ghandour, they also use questioning as a way to break down organizational barriers to get at the core of problems.

Questions can be an effective way to get at key issues without bruising egos – both for the person asking the question (who may be afraid to look stupid or to challenge a superior) and for the person receiving the question (who may take offense at any suggestion that his proposal might be flawed). As Hal and the people he quotes say repeatedly in the book, the key to getting the right answer is to ask the right question. Questioning is both an art and a skill.

The book is well researched. Gregersen often cites published research to support his major themes. The book has many examples of how managers have used questioning in a variety of ways to obtain better results. It provides additional information sources on key topics for those who want to dig deeper. It is also very well written (which makes it a quick read).

While Questions describes a collaborative approach that is politically correct in the current environment, it does have limitations. For example, it does not really address non-collaborative environments. In times of crisis, organizations may not have the time or the luxury to support a collaborative approach; so an authoritative or autocratic approach may be more appropriate. How can Gregersen’s approach be utilized in such circumstances?

I picked up some new tools for my management toolbox from reading “Questions are the Answer.” Those looking to add to their own will almost certainly do the same.
177 reviews
December 2, 2018
It’s a good reminder that questioning more is important and provides techniques to develop this skill
1 review1 follower
June 5, 2020
I found the premise of shifting our mindset from finding answers to focusing on developing good questions to be great. I think the author does a good job of explaining why it's important. However, this book could have been cut in half. I felt the author was enjoying name-dropping well-known entrepreneurs and included stories that did not lend well to further exploring the points being made. The most important lessons are in Chapters 1-4.
Profile Image for Dari.
1 review
March 28, 2020
There are pages after pages elaborating that good questions are the game changer and how it affected successful companies. Personally I missed some advises on how a good question is structured and what are the building blocks.
35 reviews1 follower
October 3, 2019
It was a good book and I enjoyed the examples, but I never felt like it got to the how.
Profile Image for Timur.
42 reviews17 followers
November 26, 2019
Водяной водопад воды из анекдотов автора.
Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,422 reviews101 followers
April 10, 2019
My thoughts on this book, and that of many books like it in the subject of creativity, are decidedly mixed.  To be sure, there are great insights to be made when it comes to asking questions, since asking the right questions can lead one to starkly unusual conclusions.  So often, though, this author (and many others like him) are simply interested in praising novelty without reflecting on the moral value of questioning (or not questioning).  All too often being a rebel and questioning authority and showing hostility to traditional ways and approaches is viewed as an end in itself, and not as a means to an end of creating a more just and more morally upright society.  Although there are many ways this book does encourage an appropriate attitude of asking why and how and why not, the fundamental purpose of simply being unconventional is itself not a sufficient or a worthwhile end in life but rather is one aspect of being potentially good.  Why is it that people think that novelty itself and the unconventionality it represents is the highest good?  That is a question this book does not think to ask.

After a foreword, this book of about 300 pages begins with a discussion of why the book was written as a celebration of those who ask questions.  The author then discusses what is harder than finding new answers, and that is finding new questions to ask that can generate research and problem solving efforts (1).  The author examines several reasons why we do not ask more (2), including the very important way that children ask very well and that adults, especially those in positions of authority, tend to find questions rather irksome because they do not always want the answers.  The author examines brainstorming for questions (3) as well as the way that few people revel in being wrong (4).  After that the author questions why people would want discomfort (5) as well as the question of whether we will be quiet (6).  This leads to a question of how to channel the energy of questioning (7), some thoughts on how to raise a generation of those who will question in the next generation (8), and a look at aiming for the biggest questions (9).  The author then ask the reader what one will ask of oneself and closes with acknowledgements, notes, and an index.

There are definitely worthwhile questions to ask a book like this, and by examining the author's unexamined worldview assumptions--such as the question of why it is that novelty and unconventionality are to be praised regardless of where they lead, or the question of why it is that so many people who like to write on and support creativity are so hostile to biblical morality and the authority of God.  In a way, asking this sort of question about a book like this honors the question-asking intents of the book even if it demonstrates that the sorts of questions that we will ask depend a great deal on our worldview and on the way in which the injustices and follies of the world impact our own lives.  To be sure, the questions examined in this book are rather one-sided in nature, but it is very easy to see how someone with a different political and religious worldview than the author will be able to celebrate and ask a great many questions that the author never even thinks to examine that will be just as important in shaping the way that the world works in the future.  And if everyone is asking questions from all sides, we will all be motivated to look for better answers.
Profile Image for Chandana Watagodakumbura.
Author 7 books7 followers
September 28, 2021
In “Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life”, the author, Dr Hal Gregersen, highlights the significance of forming and asking appropriate questions when processing information or in solving problems. In essence, the approach promotes openness (minds, hearts and will) and curiosity instead of relying purely on previously established knowledge, opinions and beliefs. It is a more dynamic approach to finding solutions to our problems by being receptive to the emerging future or the rapidly changing world.

The approach further emphasises the appropriate type of questions we ask ourselves or in a team environment. These questions should ideally be open-ended so that novel thoughts and perspectives can be developed, and they contrast the ones that yield direct factual information. Further, they can be asked silently by an individual or loudly in a team environment. As individuals, we learn to have a mindful pause when a thought-provoking question is raised, thus keeping us away from habitual thinking and behaviours. In a team environment, open-ended questions create a positive emotional atmosphere as they foster mindful inquiry and broadening of views rather than challenging a person, group or perspective. In this way, we get a chance to get exposed to the multidimensionality of many difficult problems we solve in our professional and personal lives. We move away from narrowness to embrace the actual complexity or interconnected nature of the issues as presented in systems theory.

To his credit, the author, Dr Gregersen, puts forth many real-life examples in which appropriate asking questions at the right time of a problem-solving exercise has benefited the underlying situations. Given these research outcomes, we may inquire about the possibility of introducing question-based information processing and information delivery approaches to the learning environments of all levels of education. Paying non-judgemental open awareness with curiosity to the contents and questions we get exposed to can be trained as a skill that can be developed over time, similar to any other skill. We can start early in learning journeys to have more impact so that the skill becomes a beneficial inquiry mindset. Moreover, learners get the opportunity to develop critical social and emotional or emotional intelligence skills of empathy, relationship building and perspective-taking. We emphasise the teaching and learning process rather than the informational value of the contents that are likely to change over time.
Profile Image for John B..
113 reviews9 followers
October 1, 2021
5 Stars. This book has changed the way I think and how I view the world. It has taken an entire year to work through this book. What a rewarding experience this has been.

"There are few things as useless—if not dangerous—as the right answer to the wrong question." — Peter Drucker

After making it through two-thirds of the book six months ago I thought I had gleaned as much information as there could be on questions. The remaining third of the book at first glance seemed to be fluff that didn't add anything new. I kept pushing forward, and while the going was slow, the final portion of the book left me with a lot to think about. Overall this was time well invested.

Not only did I learn new approaches to problem solving, but I also was exposed to several topics, concepts, and references that added depth and enjoyment to this reading experience.

In Chapter 9 "Why not aim for the biggest questions?" the author provides references on the origins of the XPRIZE. I am in process of reading Julian Guthrie's How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Space Flight which illustrates several of the points outlined in this book. The author did call out other books which I have read, most notably Mindset: The New Psychology of Success which is essential if one is to have the courage to ask questions that are worth getting answers to.
Profile Image for Oscar Romero.
230 reviews
May 15, 2020
Quite interesting book about how not common for us to be able to create questions--because whatever reasons there may be....and the fact that, like everything else--we need to start doing it so that we could get good at it...or, even if we ask a lot of questions doesn't means we are learning to ask better questions....there seems to be an art to generate great questions.

I was able to see-find that out with my own life experience--now that I teach (or try to) at a college level. None of my students seems to want to ask questions. Maybe I have to study psychology...do I?

I love this quote: "Where you stumble, there your treasure lies." I think it means that we need to work on the stuff we are not good at---and asking great questions is one of them....if not the most important one. Who likes to work on stuff we are not good at? I guess that is the trick.

Read this book--you will find a lot of great insights that may help you too--start working at developing and creating great questions--and who knows? You may save us all.

Profile Image for Matt.
27 reviews5 followers
May 14, 2020
Having met Hal, I'm inspired by his writing as well as how he lives his life. It's apparent that he uses what he has learned from the incredible experiences he has had and the people he has interviewed in finding the right questions to ask to improve his own life and help those in his sphere of influence. I have tried his exercise of a "question burst" a few times and it never fails to bring new insight and a shift in perspective when done in the way he prescribes it. This book is a great reminder of the power of shifting your paradigm from trying to give all the answers to asking the right questions - which will inevitably lead to the best answers to problems in work and in life.
June 22, 2020
For psych background readers, many of the research cited are very familiar; therefore, the concepts are extremely simple. However, I very much appreciate Gregersen going into office politics and other human emotional obstacles that put roadblocks along the way of concept to deployment. Great ideas, however simple, are useless unless properly deployed. I recommend Patton, Stone, & Heen's book Difficult Conversations as a companion reading to this. Teams may feel awkward at first but keep on trucking until everyone becomes comfortable.
Profile Image for JP.
1,153 reviews38 followers
July 6, 2020
Questions are the Answer has stuck with me, such that I find myself applying it every day. We tend to make statements. We do so because it’s human nature to share what we think. We do so because we’re expected to have answers. This book shows how asking the right question can be so much more powerful. Questions frame the problem. In a group setting, questions can also catalyze the whole team in a new and common direction. I wish I had encountered this book sooner in my role as a leader.
Profile Image for Lilly Pittman.
168 reviews2 followers
December 10, 2021
This book provides beautiful and thought provoking, real life examples of people who question and businesses formed around questions. However, it real strength, and the reason I'm giving it give stars is for the practical tools it gives the reader for re-thinking their mental processes and cultivating questions in life and business. Will you move from skepticism and read about how "Questions Are the Answer?"
Profile Image for Lauren Harrison.
253 reviews
January 6, 2022
Wow! Yes. 5 full stars.
While this book may be primarily written with professional application as it’s goal, I found myself inspired to use the same processes in my personal relationships and within my spiritual/faith journey.
Questions are naturally very appealing to me. I LOVE to question. Love to look at things from different angles. Love to explore and learn. This book enlivened that part of my personality and gave me some fun goals I’d like to improve upon.
21 reviews
September 25, 2019
This book detailed several questioning practices that I will incorporate at work and home and which made the read worthwhile. Another key takeaway for me is the notion of wrongness as a condition. A desirable condition. Assuming my probable wrongness and letting the resulting curiosity chart a path to new solutions. Recommend!
Profile Image for Paul.
11 reviews
July 12, 2020
I took Hal's class on the same topic and he gave me this book. Leaders often think their role is to provide answers and solutions, but questions often stimulate new ideas and deep thinking into answers and solutions. Asking questions should not just be a skill for senior leaders, it's a life skill for everyone.
Profile Image for Peter Wolfley.
685 reviews6 followers
December 25, 2020
A really fantastic overview of the importance of asking and searching for the right questions. There are several great examples of how asking the right questions sets you up for coming to the right conclusion. A lot of the overwhelming problems we face will be unlocked once we figure out how to reframe the questions.
Profile Image for Desiree.
552 reviews
February 6, 2021
This made it to my list because he was the speaker at the general session of the 2019 PMI conference. He was an engaging speaker, and as a natural questioner and project manager, I appreciated a perspective that supports asking the right questions to help teams think beyond the usual. A good business book.
Profile Image for Jiri.
28 reviews5 followers
September 22, 2019
Make questioning your daily habit and don’t forget to ask what is your core question

Ever stoped asking questions and wonder how that happened? Ever thought your life is driven by a core question you are trying to find answer to? Ever thought you are a piece of a beautiful mosaic? Embark on the journey Hal Gregerson has outlined in this book for you. Great stories and connection to real people and lives.
Profile Image for Ivaylo Yorgov.
10 reviews3 followers
December 5, 2020
Important and inspiring ideas, diluted into 300 pages. I was expecting to go a little further than the first four words of the title, which actually sum up the contents quite well.

So, ideas: 5 stars. The book itself: 2 stars.
Profile Image for Rob Nicholson.
14 reviews
February 17, 2021
Most of this book drones on like a sales pitch with heaps of name drops with minimal actionable content.

The premise is vague and be applied to anything. There is too much 'this comment is successful cause they ask good questions, that company is bad cause they didn't'. A prime example of hindsight bias and the Forer effect.

Funny the author mentions confirmation bias cause he seems to be living in it. Constantly talking about Pixar and other high profile companies. How about we hear about the companies that were failing and were fixed by these so-called questions? Coming into a company after it is already successful doesn't mean the methods work.

The recording and narration were good quality, however the content let it down. Overall, not recommended.
Profile Image for Oscar Velde.
31 reviews
October 31, 2021
Great book , lots of insights with interesting Examples and methods about how to Ask Better questions for gaining More inquiry in personal and profesional problems and for creating new paths that promote innovative or different solutions and finally better answers.
Profile Image for Abby.
5 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2022
This book was a bit redundant at points, but overall I really found it to prompt some interesting reflections. I especially liked the discussion about the relationship between one’s environment and their ability to generate questions.
Profile Image for Lisa Murray.
63 reviews4 followers
February 28, 2023
There were some interesting bits in this book, even if it is relatively simplistic. I liked the point around spending time thinking about what you don’t know as a way of elaborating thinking about a topic.
591 reviews1 follower
April 23, 2019
A lot of this is affirmation but there are the occasional gems. Like the stark research that shows that teachers ask all the questions, students do not. A problem that needs change.
Profile Image for Karlyn.
328 reviews
June 22, 2019
This book really pushes my boundaries as a leader. It helped me realize the power of questions. It has strengthened my practice and leadership skill set.
100 reviews4 followers
October 18, 2019
I always appreciate the focus on questions.

I found the book to be a bit muddled, and not as easy to follow as some, but I did appreciate the focus.
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