Observations are a live library of ideas to help you get unstuck. We talk to social development innovators, doers and thinkers and ask them to share their thoughts. These are some of their insights, served as small, refreshing nuggets of wisdom. Please, grab a bite and nurture your imagination!

Illustrations: Ivana Čobejová

Should we stop asking questions?

The office was hell today: notifications kept flashing up, deadlines have already been missed, procrastination seemed to be the only option left. Is it actually that difficult to get work done, properly and meaningfully? What are we missing?

It was definitely a good idea to come to the park. We needed a break. The park lies on a little hill, just a couple of blocks from the office. There’s even a pond, and you can see the whole city from here. The city is messy, alive, fascinating. Suddenly, just for a moment, we feel the detachment of being an observer. Changing perspectives, questions start popping up in our head.

The one about value


In development, what is worth working on and sustaining? We ask ourselves this as we observe the complex mess of a city from the hilltop parks point of view. There are so many things going on in a human community: cars and cargo bikes, schools, shops, homes, offices, pollution, green spaces, formal and informal interactions, jobs, friendships, hopes, needs, wants… the list goes on.

How do you choose where to look? What has value and what doesn’t? Or, more generally: why, when it comes to development, are we focusing on a specific issue, topic or challenge? Mostly the answer is easy: there lies the budget, there we get the most chance of a quick success, there we satisfy the momentary political appeal, and so on.

Are those answers enough?

The basic one


How can we change things radically – for example, the economy that is hurting the planet and at the same time avoid revolution and turmoil, keeping children in school and people at work? It is indeed the core question we start to ask ourselves as we notice how peaceful life at the park is.

Daniel Christian Wahl, thinker, innovator and expert in regenerative cultures, advances this and other productive questions. For example, how can we meet everyone’s basic needs while simultaneously ensuring our common future by protecting biodiversity, stabilising global climate patterns and creating thriving human cultures?

Nobody has the answer, yet.

The one about consequences


At the park, a bunch of people enjoy playing cricket. The bat hits the ball, its trajectory mechanically decided by the laws of physics: numbers will tell exactly where the ball is going to fall.

But what led the players to be there, at that particular time of day, is the result of thousands and thousands of random interactions in a complex system. Actions within complex systems – as human communities are – develop unpredictable trajectories.

If this is the reality, how can we deal with our acts and their consequences? In development, how can we rightly intervene in social systems? How can we achieve the desired output? Still, targeting the Sustainable Development Goals requires operativeness. How do we choose wisely between one solution and another?

How can we generate diverse, strategic and coherent options to hit the target?

The one about humility


We look at the pond and we see our image reflected on the smooth surface of the water. This is us. And it is us – with our social status, our personal history, our mindset, our perceptions, our biases – who form these questions.

What are the underlying assumptions we are employing in our thinking? Are they valid? And based on what underlying assumptions are we judging their validity? And so on…

The light has changed and now it is time to get back to the office. Yet, throwing a last glance at the figure reflected on the pond, perhaps a more relevant question comes up: how do we stay humble and act with precaution in the face of uncertainty and constant change? 

Are questions helpful?

Which of those questions resonate with you? And do you have any of the answers?

Questions help us redesign and act: they are a powerful tool to start challenging the status quo. This is what Daniel Christian Wahl tells us he is persuaded of. In 2016, the thinker published a book containing 250 questions that invite people to rethink the human impact and presence on planet Earth.

Hundreds of questions are probably not enough. But should that stop us from asking?