How to ask Creative Questions - #2

The last blog-post highlighted the importance of learning to ask questions to incite creativity within your organisation. A great ability to ask timely and interesting questions is one of the best skills a leader can bring to a situation, as these questions can open up new possibilities and ideas that have been hiding in the shadows.

If you didn't read the last post, I recommend you re-read it to discover more about the importance of questions, and to learn about Sacred Questions and Probing Questions. This post explores Absurd Questions and Problem-Defining Questions.

© Tasssd | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Tasssd | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Absurd Questions

Asking absurd questions is one of the funnest activities a team can do together, whilst creating new ideas that can lead to profit and efficiency for your firm. It is so simple that anyone can contribute to the discussion, yet it is a powerful technique for creating new ideas and new developments for already existing products.

The premise is simple - you ask a question that makes no sense to be asking - one that would not have crossed anyone's mind. The simple way to do this is to think of a normal question, and then ask the reverse. This will open your mind in a way it has not been trained to think.

For example - if you work in any service provider, you could ask questions like, "How could we make our customers frustrated with our product?", "How could we make our internal communication worse?", "How could we make our service slower?"

These questions are fun, and will bring about a range of answers from all different areas of your organisation.

Then - and this is the clinch - you look at the answers and see if you can turn them around into positives. This approach may sound counter-intuitive, but a business partner and myself attempted this exercise whilst thinking about the gym experience, bicycles and supermarkets.

Each time we asked the absurd question, we came up with a range of new and exciting ideas that would not have occurred if we had simply asked, "How could a gym/bicycle/supermarket be better?"

Problem-Defining Questions

When a problem rears its head in your organisation it can be easy to over-react and start seeing the problem everywhere. A sudden drop in sales, bad press about your product, the resignation of a key member of your team - all of these can surprise you and impact the way you act as a leader.

A helpful question-asking tool at this time is the Kepner-Trego Rational Manager method. This approach requires the self-awareness to stop in the middle of a crisis, gather a team and briefly run through some logical questions. These questions may sound simple, but can transform the culture of an organisation and help you make wise decisions in a trying time.

Simply put, this technique has you answer three questions:

  • What is not the problem?
  • Where is not the problem?
  • When is not the problem?

Although the grammar is a bit ugly, spending time with these questions allows you to clearly define the areas where the problem is not affecting and where things are going well.

Suddenly, you might realise that the sales drop is only in one location - and other locations are selling strongly. Perhaps the sales drop is in areas where there are new sales-reps, or younger grads practicing their skills in the workforce.

Instead of letting the problem dominate your entire field of view, this technique will allow you to place the problem in perspective, and begin to see the problem as an opportunity to grow and improve your business, rather than a brick-wall in your path.

Many of these questions may sound simple (and even childish) - but I encourage you - give them a try! Most people are surprised at the ideas they can generate in a short period of time when they are are introduced to new questions. Play with them, re-shape them for your organisation - and provide feedback if these prove helpful!