Questions, More than Answers, are the Pathway to Collective Wisdom

By Daniel Christian Wahl and originally published on

By living and loving the questions more deeply we can rediscover the beauty and abundance around us, find deep meaning in belonging to the universe, deep joy in nurturing relationships with all of life, and deep satisfaction in co-creating a thriving and healthier life for all. Questions, more than answers, are the pathway to collective wisdom. Questions can spark culturally creative conversations that transform how we see ourselves and our relationship to the world. With this in mind, everything changes instantly.

In a culture that demands definitive answers, questions seem to have only a transient significance; their purpose is to lead us to answers.

But in the face of constant and rapid change and uncertainty, might not questions rather than answers offer a more appropriate compass?

History offers many examples of yesterday’s solutions becoming today’s problems, so perhaps answers are the transient means to help us ask better questions.

Should we not pay more attention to asking the right questions, rather than become obsessed with quick solutions? Equally, in favouring practice over theory, are we not demonstrating how we have become blind to the fact that any practical action is based on our ideas and beliefs about the world whether we are conscious of them or not?

The separation of theory and practice is false; they are not opposites but two sides of the same coin. We cannot act wisely without making sense of the world and making sense of the world is in itself a profoundly practical action that informs how we experience reality, how we act, and the relationships we form. Without questioning our worldview and the narrative that has shaped our culture, are we not likely to repeat the same mistakes over and over again?

Virtually every structure and institution around us is in need of innovation, redesign and transformation. At the local, regional, national and global scale we need transformational change in education, governance, industry, transport, infrastructure, energy systems, water management, agriculture and food systems, health systems, as well as social systems.

In order to enable transformative innovation to unfold its creative potential we need to redesign the financial and economic system at all scales from local to global.

But the most up-stream transformation that has to take place before we set out to ‘redesign the human presence on Earth’ is to deeply question our way of thinking, our worldview and our value system.

Up-stream changes in our mental models, basic beliefs and assumptions about the nature of reality will affect how, what, and why we design, the needs we perceive, the questions we ask, and hence the solutions or answers we propose.

I believe a profound cultural transformation is already on its way. Humanity is waking up to the complexity of the challenges ahead.

A new kind of individual and collective leadership is emerging in business, civil society and governance.

After centuries of seeing scarcity and competition everywhere, we are waking up to the abundance that is revealed through collaboration and sharing. In the course of this book we will explore ways in which many people around the world are already working on technological, social, economic and ecological solutions that serve all of humanity and regenerate damaged ecosystems.

On an over-populated planet, facing the threat of run-away climate change and the depletion of many non-renewable resources we currently depend upon, we are increasingly becoming aware of our interdependence. For our species to not just survive, but to thrive, we depend on each other and on the planetary life-support system.

While most of our current economic and political systems were designed with a win-lose mindset (zero-sum), we are beginning to understand we will all lose in the mid-to-long-term, if we do not maintain and regenerate the healthy functioning of ecosystems, reduce the stark inequity that exists everywhere, and nurture social cohesion and international solidarity through cultures of collaboration.

To move from a zero-sum culture (win-lose) to a non-zero-sum culture (win-win) necessitates widespread collaboration to ensure that nature also wins (win-win-win) and wins first, as she is the provider of the abundance upon which we depend. Only if we collaborate in creating a healthier, diverse, vibrant and bio-productive planet, will we be able to create regenerative cultures where nobody is left behind and everyone wins.

Win-win-win cultures ensure that life can continue to evolve towards increasing diversity, complexity, bio-productivity and resilience. We can think of the three wins of regenerative cultures as individual, collective and planetary wins created through systemic solutions that nurture social, ecological and economic health and wellbeing.

Humanity is beginning to explore the fertile ground of creating win-win-win solutions that drive cultural, ecological and economic regeneration. Innovating win-win-win, integrative, whole-systems design solutions is about creating shared abundance through collaborative advantage. Such innovations optimize the system as a whole, rather than maximizing short-term economic gains for a few to the economic, social and ecological detriment of many.

Climate change is only one of the converging crises requiring a globally coordinated response that is nothing short of civilizational transformation. Humanity is facing unprecedented challenges and unparalleled opportunities. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. Change and transformation is inevitable.

Humanity is facing important questions: will we be able to steer creatively through this period of cultural transformation? Will we manage to co-create a life-sustaining and regenerative human civilization expressed in a vibrant diversity of locally adapted and globally collaborative cultures? The answers to these questions will remain unknowable for decades, yet they will define the future of humanity and the future of life on Earth.

Yes, we need answers and we need to keep experimenting with possible solutions. Both are excellent ways to help us learn from our mistakes and ask better questions.

Nevertheless, many of the questions and solutions we are working on are based on erroneous assumptions about our real priorities and true needs. We would do well to follow Einstein’s advice and spend more time making sure we are getting the questions right before we rush into offering solutions that will only prolong business as usual, or patch up the symptoms of a system that is based on erroneous assumptions and will continue to fail until we initiate deeper changes by asking deeper questions.

Living the questions more deeply is the cultural guidance system that will help us unleash the power of transformative social and technological innovation in the transition towards regenerative cultures. Questions are invitations to conversations in business boardrooms, community groups and in institutions of governance. Questions are ways to build bridges between these different sectors and between the different disciplines that compartmentalize our knowledge.

Questions — and the conversations they spark — can unleash collective intelligence and help us value multiple perspectives.

Living the questions, deep listening and learning from diverse ways of knowing — these are all ways to transform consciousness and thereby create cultural and behavioural change.

Living the questions more deeply can lead us towards a regenerative culture of equity, sustainability and justice. This book is an invitation to a conversation and a call to live the questions more deeply. It raises many questions; where it offers answers and solutions please understand them as invitations to question their significance in the transition towards regenerative cultures.

A first response to an invitation to ‘live the questions’ might be: we don’t have time for that in the face of the urgency of the climate crisis and many other developments that demand changes now. But precisely because of this urgency, we need to take a deeper look at the questions we are asking. Simply doing the wrong thing righter will no longer suffice. We need to question basic assumptions, worldviews and value systems, paying attention to what serves humanity and life and what doesn’t.

If the breakdown and need for change that we see around us is the direct result of an inappropriate way of seeing ourselves — the narrative we tell about who we are and the meaning we give to our existence — then cultural transformation has to start a long way up-stream with the way we see and think. We have to change our cultural narrative, and we can do so through culturally creative conversations that are triggered by asking deeper questions. By living the questions, we will begin to see, think and live differently; and by living differently we can bring forth a different world. We are capable of co-creating a regenerative human presence on Earth.

[This article is an excerpt from my book Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press, 2016.]

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