If You Are Asking For Innovation Answers, Then You Need Good Questions

The average 5-year-old questions everything, so why does it seem that many of us begin to question less and less as we get older? Is it the school system, which tends to prize memorised answers over creative questions? Is it because we feel social pressure to ‘seem clever’? Or maybe it’s a business culture that discourages employees from questioning entrenched ways of doing business?

Questions give people permission to acknowledge doubt, test hypotheses about where the world is heading, and reframe challenges.

A simple, mind-opening question can reveal a new line of thinking. Every innovation process starts with learning, and learning depends on observing and questioning.

The right, pointed question can be the prelude to a breakthrough innovation, or kill off a bad idea before it takes hold. Our motto is that “a good question beats a good answer.”

It is often the case that when innovating, the question tends to be positioned in a way to influence a quick solution, such as “How do we do what the competition have just done, but better?” instead of, “How do we win over the consumers who are buying the competition?” The first question will only get you one step ahead, and probably not for long, the second question is far more certain to dig deeper, and reveal a genuine competitive advantage.

Another commonly asked question on innovation projects that is sure to limit the outcome is, “How do we make this most appealing for x target consumer?” but try asking instead, “Which consumer targets would this idea most appeal to and why?” – the chances are that you will probably find a much bigger opportunity by staying open minded.

Why Ask Questions?

Asking cutting questions helps you improve your ability to work on the right things, with the right energy, at the right time, the right way… for the very best results.

Asking the right questions leads to better answers. If we think of thinking as a process of asking and answering questions, then to get better answers, we have to ask better questions. 

Asking questions changes your focus. You can change your focus by changing your question, and this allows you to quickly switch perspectives or get a new lens on things.  For example, by asking yourself “Why are you winning?” you get a very different result than asking, “Why are you losing?” 

Asking questions makes you more effective at initiating change. Change your questions and you change your game.  Rather than “tell” yourself to do things, you can ask more effective questions to get more resourceful.  For example, “How might I solve this” or “What’s a good approach?” or “Who else shares this problem that I can learn from?”  You can also get unstuck by switching gears from “Why” to “How” questions.  For example, rather than ask, “Why have the competition beat me?”, ask yourself either, “What are you going to do about it?” or “How will you avoid this in the future?”

Asking questions creates opportunity. If you want more conflict, simply make more statements.  Statements create conflict.  Somebody can always argue with a statement.  You can even argue with yourself!  Switching to questions, opens up exploration with others, and inherently makes the whole process much more collaborative.           

As you can see, there are lots of reasons why improving the questions you ask can significantly impact (and usually improve) the solutions you create, so what’s the first question you will ask yourself to ensure you win in your marketplace?

Published 5th July 2013 by Shelly Greenway @ the Strategy Distillery