‘The Beauty and Power of Good Questions’: Harvard Dean’s Commencement Speech Inspires Book

Here at Abbey Research we have already shown our emphasis on the importance of forming good questions. In today’s blog, we’d like to further explore this idea by presenting some philosophical musings on the topic from the Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, James Ryan. Earlier this month (April) the Dean appeared on CBS This Morning to discuss how (and why) he turned his graduation speech from last year into a new book on living life and asking questions. When talking about the reason for the book – ‘Wait? What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions’ – Dean Ryan claimed that asking the 5 essential (plus one bonus) questions outlined in his speech will “lead you to some of the most important topics you can talk about in life.”

  Image Credit:  Gretchen Rubin

Image Credit: Gretchen Rubin

The basis of Ryan’s list of questions was his advice to graduating students that they learn the art of cultivating good questions, and that learning this art would help them to be successful both professionally and personally. Ryan claimed that “if you regularly ask: wait, what, I wonder, couldn’t we at least, how can I help, and what really matters, when it comes time to ask yourself ‘And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so,’ your answer will be ‘I did.’”

Let’s take another look at these questions and contemplate how they could be an effective method for improving our inter-business and interpersonal relations:

1.      Wait, what?

2.      I wonder?

3.      Couldn’t we at least?

4.      How can I help?

5.      What really matters?

What impact would asking these questions have on how we relate to our family, friends, and co-workers? How would they change how we approach our work-related projects? In his speech, Ryan briefly explained the value of each question, stating “‘Wait, what’ is at the root of all understanding. ‘I wonder’ is at the heart of all curiosity. ‘Couldn’t we at least’ is the beginning of all progress. ‘How can I help’ is at the base of all good relationships. And ‘what really matters’ gets you to the heart of life.”

  Image Credit:  Subex

Image Credit: Subex

Essentially then, these questions are aimed at getting each person to think about understanding, curiosity, progress, and relationship-building. Surely all of these qualities are necessary to being successful, from developing new research aims or projects, to running an impactful and innovative business. In approaching each new work task with the goal of being curious, seeking progress and understanding, and building lasting relationships, we could all focus on being involved in productive and enriching work experiences, while simultaneously getting to the heart of ‘what really matters’ both for our clients and ourselves. Perhaps in our future projects, Abbey Research will ask these questions before undertaking any new research – will you?