Make it Matter: Questions & Book Clubs

Recently, I’ve been thinking about questions.   My book club is back (we take the summer off) and it’s a great place to practice asking questions.  They’re a sharp group that loves to talk about books and ask lots of questions. 

Being in a book club can be a lot like managing a team, sitting down for family dinner or having drinks with your friends:  

— Everybody’s got an opinion — but it’s still unclear what’s really going on.

— There’s never a resolution to any discussion — and you’d like one that suits you.  

— It’s not supposed to be like this.  Why can’t it be more fun?  

So what can you do?   

I say, maybe try managing your team, family dinner and drinks with friends more like you’d manage a book club.  Here are three suggestions that work for book clubs that you might consider adopting for life — plus three books that might help.  

1.  Ask more questions, genuinely — and listen to the answer.

I love using questions in book club to get a conversation started and hear how others see the book.  The conversation that started between me and the author is suddenly much wider and brighter with my book club.   (I have to say my book group is particularly fabulous at conversation!  😘)

Frank Sesno, Emmy award winning, former CNN correspondent and bureau chief, wrote a lovely book Ask More in which he argues that asking great questions is a skill that can lead to better results in our personal and professional lives.  

He argues convincingly that an ability to ask questions is sorely lacking today then proceeds to outline 11 styles of questions you can use to ‘uncover solutions and spark change’.  

I wasn’t prepared to like this book.  I was afraid it was going to be ‘thin’.  Though some of his suggestions are self-evident, the stories he attaches to his simple imperative — ask better questions — make it clear how hard such a dictum can be. 

Reading the story of General Colin Powell and the questions (or lack of) that led to the disastrous Iraq campaign late in the General’s seasoned career show how important questions — and the need to continue to question — are for all of us.  

2. Let go of your ego.   

One of the hardest things to do when running a book club is to not get invested in your book choice and your opinions.  Truth to tell, and I’m sure my book club mates would agree, I often struggle to let go of my opinion of the book.  

If I love the book, I want everyone to love the book.   I’m slightly hurt when they don’t agree.    Whether it’s books, politics or the weather.   

But, I’m learning that it’s ok for me to have an opinion and you to have another opinion.  It doesn’t make either one of us right or wrong.  The wrong comes when either one of us insists our opinion is the only opinion that’s right.

Several years ago, Ryan Holliday wrote Ego is the Enemy.  The book grew out of his interest in humility — how it can serve us, well.  He wanted to write a book on people who were humble.  But, he says, as he did research on the topic he quickly realized that stories of the humble weren’t very interesting. 

It was the stories of those who had large, over-wrought egos that had to be overcome which made for the best lessons.  Hence, he pivoted and turned his book into the stories of egos that had to be managed or overcome.  Yes, there are some great stories in this little missive.

3.  Have more fun.  

Derren Brown is an unconventional, English mentalist and illusionist entertainer who is not particularly well-known on this side of the pond.  But, that is changing fast.  He’s got a show on Netflix, Derren Brown: Sacrifice that’s getting lots of attention.  

His perspective on the world and his fellow man pushes some bounds.  I haven’t seen the show but it certainly looks gripping and will likely generate lots of questions and a few opinions.  Here’s Newsweek’s commentary & a brief interview with Derren Brown.

I got turned on to his work about a year ago.  His book Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine is crammed with great stories, insight and lovely practical everyday wisdom from both psychology and philosophy.  He puts the world into some perspective — something it seems we’re sorely lacking.

If you’re tired of daily bad news, skeptical of self-help and today’s standard wisdom, or just want to feel better about things in general — I’d recommend this book.   Though it’s long (500+ pages), it is worth the read (or the Audible!)   

How many good questions did you ask of yourself today?  

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