Provocative questions can answer most conundrums of life and
work. Einstein allegedly said that if someone gave him
one hour to solve a problem, he would spend the first 55 minutes
making sure he was answering the right question. This month
| The Creative Power of Questions
Asking creative questions can change everything. A big, beautiful
question can generate ideas, inspire action, influence engagement
and participation, as well as solve problems and spark creative genius.
Provocative questions can answer most conundrums of life and work.
Einstein allegedly said that if someone gave him one hour to solve
a problem, he would spend the first 55 minutes making sure he was
answering the right question.
In business, we don't ask enough questions for fear of appearing stupid
or uninformed. Or we don't want to challenge authority or be disruptive.
But research is showing that there are many kinds of questions and,
asked in the right way, they can lead to breakthrough thinking and
disruptive innovations, such as those created by Airbnb, Uber, Pandora,
Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, iPhone and many others.
Let's explore some of the questioning frameworks people use to find
- 4 Stages: Nearly a century ago, the British psychologist
Graham Wallas proposed a four-stage process of creativity.
In his 1926 book
The Art of Thought, Wallas observed that creative
solutions appear sequentially:
Preparation => Incubation => Illumination => Implementation
This creative process is still used today in many research and
- 5 Whys: The "five whys" methodology originated in
Japan with Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries.
Asking "why" five times in succession is a means of
discovering the root of a particular manufacturing problem.
But this can be applied to many areas, including behaviors.
People are inclined to look for the easiest, most obvious explanation
for a problem, so asking "why" five times leads to
understanding a problem fully.
- Contextual Inquiry: When you ask questions up close and in
context, using observation, listening, and empathy, you are
likely to get a better understanding of user experiences. This
means going beyond the office and spending time with customers
to find out what they really care about.
- Connective Inquiry: One of the ways to find new ideas is
to connect existing ideas in unusual ways. This is also known
as "combinatorial thinking." One successful example
was when Frederick Rueckheim observed the popularity of candy,
peanuts and popcorn and created Cracker Jacks , adding a small
prize to each box in 1913.
- Collaborative Inquiry: It's never been easier than in today's
interconnected world to ask for help with ideas and creative
solutions. Many of the most recent start-ups are using this
access to a diverse world to achieve speed, flexibility and
ingenuity that would never have been possible even ten years
| The Why, What If and How of Creative Questioning
The ability to ask "why" has sparked innumerable
Author and journalist Warren Berger writes about this in
A More Beautiful Question, a fascinating book illuminating
the power of questions that lead to innovations. He outlines a framework
of three sequential questions to spark the creative process:
Why? => What if...? => How might we...?
The "why" stage is about stepping back and observing,
to see and understand more fully what's going on. Notice what others
may be missing. Don't ignore incongruencies. Investigate them. Challenge
assumptions. Question the questions being asked and ask a new question.
To question well in particular, to ask fundamental "why"
questions we need to stop doing, stop knowing and start asking,
which makes most people uncomfortable. We don't want to ask, "Why
are we doing this, exactly?" We don't want to slow down a meeting,
or appear stupid.
The problem is that we are prone to act out of habit, unquestioningly.
The pressure to keep moving forward is everywhere. It's difficult
to admit our common human condition of thinking we know more than
we do. The ego protects itself by gravitating toward feelings of
certainty. In that state of mind we're unlikely to ask questions.
Being comfortable with not knowing is the first part of being a
good questioner. Asking naive questions without feeling self-conscious
is not easy to do. A beginner's mind is open to all possibilities
while an expert's is not.
Even if you don't yet know "how," it's important to ask
"why" and "what if" questions. Yet even when
people do ask questions, they're often relying on assumptions and
|"Every time you come up with a question, you should be
wondering, What are the underlying assumptions of that question?
Is there a different question I should be asking?" ~ Robert
On Being Certain
The "how" stage tends to be a slow and difficult part of
the creative process. It's marked with failures which don't always
feel good or beneficial. To act on an idea, narrow down the possibilities
and commit to finding a way to materialize it.
Sharing and feedback are a critical part of this stage. Fortunately,
it's easier now than ever to get prototypes made and reviewed. In
the future, if 3-D printing becomes widely available and affordable,
this might become even easier and faster.
It's happening already. We're expected to quickly adapt to using new
and unfamiliar tools every day. The technology is always changing
and there are never clear instructions.
Like it or not, we are expected to adapt-- now. The future is here.
Most of us need to ask better questions and become better experimenters.
If you're uncomfortable asking questions, talk with a professional
The best coaches, managers, consultants and therapists seem to agree:
there is no substitute for self-questioning. The most important help
an adviser can give is to suggest asking provocative questions, both
of yourself and of others. It might be helpful to engage in "question-storming,"
that is, brainstorming to generate better questions instead of ideas.
What do you think? How often are you willing to ask creative questions?
Do you know someone who would enjoy
working with a coach? A coach helps you work smarter and be more
efficient. A coach gives your perspective and helps you "Think your
way to success." A coach keeps you on-track and accountable. Two
heads really are better than one! I love to help people find a good
forward this Newsletter to one of your friends.
Invite them to become a Newsletter Subscriber,
by going to my and signing up.