Asking Smarter Questions
How To Be an Agent of Insight
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Insight is the superpower that drives innovation and enables us to understand the world from other peoples’ points of view, be they customers or colleagues, advocates or competitors. This new book from data storyteller Sam Knowles explains how to ask smarter questions – questions that, by design, stimulate more useful answers. This is the shortcut to better productivity, fast-tracked innovation, and organisational success – for businesses, universities, charities, and governments.
For too long, the simple act of asking questions has been overlooked as almost too trivial to contemplate. Asking Smarter Questions seeks to champion the art of curiosity by setting out a framework to make every question count. The fundamental building blocks of insight are data and information, joined together in new and often unpredictable ways. The way we surface new data and information and make meaningful connections between data points is by asking smarter questions. By taking this approach, you can make your organisation a less confrontational, more collaborative, and more productive environment in which to work – particularly in the more distributed and remote settings that will characterise the 2020s.
Managers, directors, and leaders will find the universal principles, expert interviews, and data-driven recommendations a source of inspiration to share with their teams. Asking Smarter Questions is aimed at professionals in businesses and organisations across all sectors, and will help those working in many functions, including market research, intelligence, insight, analytics, strategy, marketing, communications, planning, product development, and innovation.
Table of Contents
1. What’s all the fuss about? 2. What did the bloody Greeks ever do for us? 3. Why should we even bother with "Why?"? 4. Curiosity did WHAT, did you say? 5. What makes a good question? 6. What makes a bad question? 7. Does silence and listening matter? 8. Can we go over that in forensic detail? 9. Do you like my bedside manner? 10. Just how sensitive should a question be? 11. What are the best questions in the world? 12. How can I find out more?
Sam Knowles is a data storyteller with more than 30 years’ experience enabling organisations to use data smarter and communicate with impact. A classicist with a psychology doctorate, he helps organisations to talk "Human". Asking Smarter Questions is the third in Sam’s Using Data Better trilogy of books, which also includes Narrative by Numbers (2018) and How To Be Insightful (2020).
"As a qualitative researcher, I love that Sam’s book focuses on two underrated, but highly valuable skills: the ability to listen and the ability to ask better questions. Improving skills in these areas will help anyone unlock deeper insight."
Sean Adams, Global Insights Director, Brand Metrics
"Few people master the art of the question, yet how can you get to the answers you need when the question isn’t right? Erudite, vital, and engaging, Sam Knowles is the expert with the answers to the questions you should be asking."
Steve Bustin, President (2019-2021), Professional Speaking Association
"Sam is an expert and thought leader in the world of insight and innovation. In an age when we all need to ‘be more human’, Sam helps the reader to ask smarter questions and become more impactful in their work."
Simon Chuter, Innovation Advisor, Sussex Innovation
"Asking the right questions is a crucial part of building understanding and key to achieving insight. Sam’s ability to make you think intelligently about these questions, and then how to narrate what is found, is brilliant."
John Eggleton, Head of Commercial, Emerald Publishing
"Sam Knowles is a true innovator in the field of insight. His works take you on a voyage of discovery and never leave you feeling lost or overwhelmed. You’ll leave invigorated, challenging ideas in ways you never thought possible. But don’t just take my word for it, take a read of this book, you won’t regret it."
Simon Frazier, Head of Marketing & Data Innovation, Institute for Practitioners in Advertising
"As a business leader who spends every day encouraging people to be more curious about data, I cannot recommend Asking Smarter Questions highly enough. Yet again, Sam Knowles has created a warm, engaging, and accessible toolkit for any professional navigating the 21st century."
Richard Freeman, CEO, Always Possible
"A fascinating, insightful, and practical read for anyone needing to unleash the superpower of curiosity, to have better conversations, and to drive progress in whatever form - especially innovation. Read it to reawaken your natural curiosity and put it to work."
Belinda Gannaway, Author, Employee Experience by Design
"In an age of information overload and data misinterpretation, Sam has the ability to cut through the noise and get to the gist of the matter to enable people to make rational and better decisions."
Dave Henson, The Slide Presentation Man
"Sam Knowles has written a must-read primer for all of us who are looking to drive change for the better, in the world of work in general and in the healthcare industry in particular. It’s not only a good read, it's also a tool that enables you to turn your curiosity into action that matters."
Beyza Klein, Patient Engagement Director, Novartis
"We live in a post-truth world where falsehoods and misinformation appear to carry as much weight as facts and observable truths. The solution is to let the truth shine through using critical analysis, and the key to this is asking the right questions of the right people and being able to evaluate their responses. Sam’s book is an excellent guide on how to use smart questioning to establish the truth and evaluate it."
Nick Manning, Founder, Encyclomedia International
"Too many consultants think they are doing their best work for their clients when they are in problem-solving mode, whereas they can help their clients even more when they go into the problem-framing space first. Asking incisive, revelatory questions is a critical skill to ensure that the right problem frame is built. Sam Knowles continues his pragmatic pilgrimage with this third book, giving away the usually 'secret' knowledge on how to ask good questions to all who care to read his work. I predict it'll be a well-thumbed book."
Kenneth McKenzie, Research Lead, Human Insights Lab, Accenture
"As we continue to move from too little information to much too much, Sam Knowles is an excellent guide for those seeking to increase the clarity, depth, and ultimately the insights within their data."
Antonio Ortolani, Partner, Global Head of Knowledge, Insights, Research, and Analytics, Kekst CNC
"The world is being redefined by two major forces: infinitely abundant data and a blurring of truth and fiction. Critical thinking is essential for navigating this new order, and mastering this starts with asking the right questions."
Christian Polman, UK Managing Director, Looping Group
"The power of a brilliant question has been lost in our search engine world. Overwhelmed by data, too often we accept the paid ad version and over time we lose perspective as well as truth. This book reminds you of the power of curiosity, truth, silence, and insight. It might just change the world."
Lucy Paine, Connector & Communicator, TechSpark
"I’ve known and worked with Sam for 10 years. If we need a considered opinion, he’s the ideal person to help walk you through the thought process. It’s only when you look back that, as in this book, that you realise his first step was to subtly reframe the original question and make it better. He does that because it produces better answers."
Martin Radford, Business Director, Ebiquity
"The ability to ask great questions is one of the most important tools available to leaders. It’s the key to encouraging thinking which itself is the key to unlocking engagement, productivity, and innovation. This is a very welcome and natural completion of Sam’s excellent trilogy of books."
Peter Russian, Director, Intent Based Leadership International
"Asking reflective and sometimes uncomfortable questions has been at the centre of my role advising organisations on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Finding ways of asking smarter questions is a continuous goal and area of development in my practice. Who better to explore this topic than Sam Knowles, who taught me so much about being insightful from his previous book, How To Be Insightful."
Sabrina Shadie, Ethics & Equity Change Maker, D’Rose Development Consultancy
"Sam has built a reputation for looking at insight in innovative ways. In Asking Smarter Questions, he helps us cut out the clutter and get to the heart of the data. A must read for any data-user."
Karsten Shaw, Director of Analytics, Yonder Consulting
"I love Sam’s previous books and so it was no surprise that this too was a must-read for me. Sam’s research and presentation warms your heart. For anyone running a business or an organisation, or who is responsible for people and customers, this book is not just an interesting and enjoyable read. It will give you an invaluable skill that just keeps giving. Asking smarter questions is important, and this book tells you why and how."
Sarah Springford, CEO, Brighton Chamber
"I have turned to Sam time and time again to help me make the complex simple - to craft compelling narratives from data and insights. He is a truly masterful storyteller who understands how to tell stories that resonate profoundly."
Martin Vinter, SVP of Consultancy, Brainlabs
"Sam Knowles is one of the smartest people I know and one of the most insightful. His new book focuses on what has been an increasingly under-appreciated skill, namely the ability to ask the right questions, rather than making statements dressed up as fact. Not only does this approach lead to better answers, it also leads to better organisations and greater collaboration. Read this book and start asking the right questions."
Ian Whittaker, MD & Owner, Liberty Sky Advisors
"A very thought-provoking read, with lots of great tips. I've picked up some ideas for great questions that I can use mediating, training, consulting and, frankly, to strengthen my connections with my friends and family too."
Pip Brown, Director, Conflict Insights
"If you don't know Sam and his work, you absolutely should: he's the master of how to use data to surface genuine insights. This book centres on the excellent (and often over-looked) premise that one way to reach better answers is by asking better questions. It's filled with fascinating ideas on how to do this - as well as interviews with people who need to ask good questions for a living."
Philippa Roberts, Founding Partner, PLH; author of Brandsplaining