Ask The Right Questions

“Human systems grow in the direction of what they persistently ask questions about.”  – David Cooperrider

I have been thinking a lot recently about the power of questions in creating meaningful change in organizations. I posted earlier about taking a 6 week online class about Appreciative Inquiry. One of the principles of AI states that questions and change are not separate things. They happen simultaneously. One of the most important things that we can do in bringing about change is to develop and ask good questions.

So, if human systems grow in the direction of their persistent questions, what sorts of questions should we be asking?

  • Our budget has been cut again. How can we do more with less?
  • How can we show that we still have value?
  • How can libraries avoid obsolescence?

If these are the types of questions that we regularly ask at our institutions and our professional organizations and conferences then we are in trouble. If these are the questions that focus us, then we will constantly be thinking about proving our worth, avoiding budget cuts, and our eventual demise. We’ll be focused on fear as opposed to actually providing value and doing good. We need better questions.

  • How can we create amazing experiences everyday for our users?
  • How can we develop our students into expert questions-askers?
  • How can we make our libraries invaluable and irreplaceable in our communities?
  • How can we nurture abundant curiosity?
If questions like these are the ones that guide our thinking we’ll do extraordinary things. These questions aren’t trying to solve problems or even merely discover what we are already doing. These questions paint an optimum vision of the future and propel us towards it. Instead of trying to solve problems, put out fires, or simply stay afloat we are asking how can we create the kind of future we want.
What questions are you asking at your institution? What questions do you want to be asking?


Andy Burkhardt


  1. Andy another great post! One point I’d disagree with though is the asking how we do more with less. You can’t do more with less, you can do less with less. Libraries do a great job of doing less with less, better than most, but if we want to ensure a future that includes libraries are there to meet the needs of our communities we need to be honest with ourselves and more importantly our supporters, administrators and financial backers. If you want more from libraries you need to give us more. Cutting funding, staff, hours, support etc will get you less. We will continue to be awesome but with less.

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