Sometimes, before you start generating ideas, it makes sense to slow down and ask some more questions.

It is normal to want to solve problems, and come up with solutions and ideas from the beginning.

But how do we know that we are solving the right problem? Or that the problem we have identified is the root issue at all, or just a symptom of something else that needs to be fixed.

This is where the value of questioning comes in.

Hal Gregersen, Professor at MIT and innovation specialist, found after interviewing more than 200 leaders in business, creativity and innovation that more effective than traditional brainstorming sessions were workshops where the first activity was not to define problems, challenges or generating ideas. Instead, the most effective first thing to do was to list out all of the questions which a team could think of.

Not answer the questions, but just collect and list them.

Then ask why that specific question was important to be answered.

By listing out the questions, it provides guidance to the brain, and to everyone involved, what is really important when looking at the challenge to be solved. As a result, the ideas and solutions which are developed are more likely to directly address the real challenges rather than the superficial initial ideas you may have otherwise come up with, and add more value as a result.

He called this process the Question Burst, and described it in his book Questions are the Answer.

Here is a high level overview of how a question burst can be structured:

  1. Select your challenge you are trying to solve
  2. Check your emotional temperature
  3. Engage others with diverse perspectives
  4. Lay out the challenge to the group (or yourself) for 2 minutes
  5. Set a timer for 4 minutes and list out as many questions as everyone can think of
    • Ask questions only. No preambles or discussions about reasons or possible answers
  6. Check your emotional temperature again
  7. Select the questions which provides a new angle on making progress
  8. Make a plan of action and get to it
  9. Repeat

So if your team is ever in a situation where the solutions you are coming up with aren’t changing things enough, it might be time to ask some different questions.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.