Why/What If/How … Making the Wicked Problem…Well Still Wicked but in More Digestible Chunks

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am reading a book called A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger (2014). He presents a method of approaching … life really but also problems.  His method is Why/What if/How (p. 33).
Question in a question in a question in a question

The Why questions are essential and demand that people be inquisitive.  Sir Ken Robinson (Robinson 2006) points out that we are born inquisitive and creative but then school crushes it out of you.  Berger argues that we need to regain that fire to understand the world around us.  Berger quotes a report that says “Preschool children on average ask their parents about 100 questions a day.  By middle school, they’ve pretty much stopped asking” (p. 44).

Regardless, we need to start wondering again and asking questions.  This will lead us to a problem that we gravitate to but isn’t easy to tackle.  Berger (2014) explains, “If it’s a question worth pursuing, it will likely be confounding, frustrating, exhausting” (p. 215).

Once you have your Why, you move on to trying to find workable solutions.  This is the What If stage.  You brainstorm ways to fix the problem, but you focus on possibilities with out rejecting anything.  Once you have your What Ifs, you pick the one that you feel like is the best solution.

This leads to the How section.  You take your What If and figure out how to make it reality.  If it works, that’s great.  If it doesn’t, you go back to your what ifs and try again…and again…and again.

That’s the process.  Berger tells us that “you don’t just ‘find’ answers to complex life problems … you work your way gradually toward figuring out those answers…” (p. 184).


Now that we have the nuts and bolts, why is this useful to the teacher or tech director?

Have you ever faced a problem of practice that seemed to confound you and your fellow teachers?

Have you ever been caught off guard when the state changes the curriculum right as school is about to start?  Have you ever had a population of kids that just doesn’t want to learn your subject?  Have you ever had a schism between administration and faculty or school and district?  In other words, have you ever faced a significant challenge in your working life?  If you can honestly say no, I feel like you may be doing it wrong.

Let’s pick one of those questions and run the Why/What If/How gamut.  Why are my kids reluctant to learn what I am teaching them? Or, could you ask it as why am I having a hard time teaching this in a way that my students want to learn?  Maybe, why are my students having a hard time focusing; what’s happening in their lives right now? That’s just the beginning but you get the idea.

What if I let the kids participate in choosing the topics that we cover as long as the standards are met?  What if I give the students a menu of options that all meet the standards, but that they can have choice?  What if I tap into their inquisitive natures and allow them to frame their own questions and I help them find their answers (or do it on their own)?

Then you pick a What If and figure out how.  Let’s use that last one.  How can I use what resources I have to allow students to pick their topics? How can I develop a framework in which the students choose a topic while still meeting the objectives?  How might I foster creative thought and inquiry while meeting the state guidelines for what students should know?

From there, you figure out solutions.  I could create something like this:


How can you use this process in your particular context?  What major question are you facing that you need a process to help you work through?


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Robinson, K. (2006, February). Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?  [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s