Questions are the Answer

Why is it that everything is always in the last place you look? The obvious answer is that once you find it you stop looking. While that may work for your cell phone or your car keys, it doesn’t work for innovation. The first answers you find tend to produce mundane, everyone-has-thought-of-them-before ideas.

It is only when you keep pushing for even more answers that you discover truly breakthrough ideas that lead to innovative solutions. So don’t stop searching as soon as you find the first good answer; there are likely to be some better ones. It is often a later answer that is exactly what you need to solve a problem in an innovative way. That is the power of questions.

Ask more questions. Ask different questions. Ask them in a different way.

Settling on answers too early is like pulling back the string of a bow only a few inches. There’s not enough energy for the arrow to hit its mark.

Herbert Simon coined the term Satisficing (Administrative Behavior, 1947) to describe the condition of being so uncomfortable with an unresolved state — in other words with the state of not knowing — that we jump to the first answer that puts us out of our misery. Once we identify an answer, we tend to stick with it. First answers are persistent.

Once you assign a meaning, almost inevitably you’re locked into it. The first time you encounter a situation, you remember as much as you can about it, and it becomes your standard for any subsequent encounter with a similar situation; this is known as the Law of Primacy.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. (Alan Lane, 2011) Daniel Kahneman explains that our brains tend to rely too heavily on the first piece of information it receives and then in following assessments we tend to simply support this information to make decisions. This leads to inaccurate and often totally wrong decisions.

Questions hold the potential to cultivate creative insight. Often the first ideas are the most obvious, routine suggestions. The next set of ideas begin to stretch some boundaries. The boundaries you put around a problem limit the amount of space available to solve it. Some problems may be beyond solution until you look beyond the currently defined boundaries. The more you push beyond the conventional, the more startling, the more bizarre and the more creative your ideas are likely to be.

Ask the questions that others are unwilling to ask so that you can see linkages and associations that have yet to be discovered. Ask open-ended questions that elicit a wide range of answers rather than closed questions, which can be answered with a yes, no, grunt or a recitation of facts.

Ask qualitative questions: what, why, when, where, which, how, if, why not. Ask quantitative questions: how much, how many, how often, how likely, how quickly.

Ask questions that lead to more questions. Ask as many variations on your original question as you can to force yourself to approach the situation from different angles.

By generating variations of the original question, you automatically expand the scope of your thinking.

Bob Roitblat
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Bob Roitblat

Bob Roitblat is a Leadership Capabilities Expert and TEDx speaker. He helps organizations ignite creativity, overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities. Bob is also the president of Mainsail Consulting Group, a business-advisory firm. Also connect with Bob on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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Bob Roitblat
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