Every profession has a basic set of tools they use to ply their trade. Surgeons have scalpels, Cowboys have ropes, hikers have backpacks, and musicians have instruments. It’s hard to imagine getting your work done without the appropriate set of tools. Innovative thinkers also have a basic set of tools: questions. The innovator’s tool bag is filled with who, what, where, when, why and how questions.
The ideas you generate depend upon the questions you ask. To get better ideas start by asking new and better questions. Indeed, when it comes to sparking innovation, asking questions – the right questions, at the right time and in the right way – is more important.
If you’re looking to solve a problem, take the time to identify the real problem then formulate questions that will produce ideas to solve the real problem.
If you don’t invest sufficient time to fully to understand what’s going on, you run the risk of identifying great solutions that still fail to address your real problem or challenge. As Peter Drucker wrote in Men, Ideas & Politics, “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.”[i]
Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.
Asking questions does more than just uncover objective facts, they help you uncover the reasons and the motives behind those facts.
Ask better questions. For example: not how to make clothes or teeth whiter; how to make them less yellow. (Hint: add blue)
If you’re not generating good ideas, you’re asking the wrong questions.
What are your favorite idea-generating questions?
[i] Peter F. Drucker, Men, Ideas & Politics, Harvard Business Review Press, page IX.
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