Articles and papers written by some of the industries top thought-leaders on business strategy and transformation.

How to Answer the Innovation Question

We’ve all been trained to ask the typical questions in our businesses and lives. Who, what, when, where, and how are the traditional areas to explore. Recently I’ve learned that these questions aren’t the best approach to opening our conscious minds and fueling innovation and creative thinking.

Why?  These traditional questions tend to focus on the context of a specific thing in the present or past.
A better question is, “What if?”  The difference is that when we ask, “What if,” we tend to focus on a possibility yet to be discovered. Since I’m a big believer in ditching the status quo and opening to new and expanded choices and possibilities, “What if?” is fast becoming my favorite question of all time!

Asking “What if…” opens our minds to create innovation and opportunities.

What If?

There are so many places to use this question in our professional and personal lives. Here are some of my favorite (and personal) examples:

  • Problem Solving  Our traditional approach goes something along the lines of, Who did What , When and Where did they do it and How did it happen. In my client experience I quickly learned that this line of questioning  a) pointed the focus to the past and b) quickly turned into a blame game. That’s not exactly productive, now is it?   When I spun the focus to the solution and a positive future – the results became much more powerful.  Simply ask questions like,  “What if we tried a new approach?  What if we solved this issue while focusing on a sustainable future solution? How might that solution appear?”  You’ll see the difference in your results!
  • Personal Differences  Your boss sees things one way and you see them another. Your partner reads that email one way and you meant it totally differently. We’ve all been there. It’s part of being human. One of the fastest ways to get ahead of the potential conflict in such situations is to simply ask, “What if I put myself in their shoes? What if I look thru their eyes and perspectives?”  By doing just that, we can shift our perspectives to include those of others and then bring all of that insight to bear on uniting in a common perception around pretty much any topic. From that place, we have the power to create amazing results that include all the perspectives.
  • Brainstorming   I wish I had a dollar for every brainstorming session that focused on the Who, What, When, Where and How of the past as a starting point for the future. It’s the way we’ve all been taught to think. What if we changed it? Instead of starting with the way we’ve always done it, what if we started by asking the “What if?” question, focusing on innovation and new ideas in our future?  Sure, we have to add some practical insights based on the what of our business. Yet beginning with a blank whiteboard is one of the most powerful ways to stimulate creative thinking.  Asking the “What if? question to fill that whiteboard will fuel creativity and innovation. Isn’t that what brainstorming is all about?

The Bottom Line

We’ve all been programmed to dive into the past to solve problems, create and defend our own perspectives, visualize our future and more. We do this by asking the traditional set of questions. Questions are a powerful way to trigger our conscious mind into action. Yet if we ask questions that focus on our past – we have little foundation to create anything other than what’s already in our past.

By asking “What if?” we trigger our conscious minds to step into the action. We also open a blank space within which we have the freedom to create and innovate outside of the structure of our past.

What if you did just that?