How to Be Innovative – Ask Inciting Questions
How to be innovative is found in the questions not the answers. But we have to pick our questions wisely. If we ask the same questions in the same way and even of the same people, it’s no surprise that we get the same answers. And those answers are usually the incremental ones. Or, maybe it’s slightly better but not enough to make an impact.
If you want more breakthrough thinking, you’ve got to change from usual questions to inciting questions.
What’s the difference? Well, usual questions are the questions you always ask. Yes, they sound smart, even right. But, most likely you’ve been asking the same questions for a while. Or, maybe it’s the same questions everyone in your category is asking. Or, maybe it’s the question that leads you down the same path to the obvious answer. Usual questions become almost a matter of habit at every brainstorm. Here’s the challenge. Yes, those are questions you want answered. But, given their customary nature, you’re not going to get to those innovative ideas you need. You know this because you see it over and over again. Unlike, inciting questions. To incite is to stir, to encourage to stimulate, to prompt.
Inciting questions take you down new paths to those provocative answers you were looking for.
I found that there are two ways to tackle inciting questions. One is to ask questions that shake up your assumptions. Questions like:
- What would happen if we didn’t solve that challenge?
- What would it look if we did the opposite of what we usually do?
Or, before we go into solution mode, let’s work backward.
- What’s the problem that caused the problem?
It’s funny, that last one gets people all stirred up because we want to quickly move into solution mode and assume the first problem we identify is the one we should be solving. I think our clients will tell you that when we start digging in, we find that the first challenge we are solving is not always the right one if we want to get to lasting change and results.
So the second way to ask inciting questions is to challenge the big assumptions in your category.
It’s really challenging the assumptions about how things should be done in your world. Here are a few of my favorite examples from organizations you know and some I think you’ll be excited to get to know. Why do cars have to be either fuel efficient or sexy? Tesla – sustainable and sexy cars. Why do razors need to be on store shelves at the grocery store? Dollar Shave Club – subscription razor service. Who says you have to go to the grocery store for your food? Instacart – grocery delivery. Why do libraries have to be a warehouse of books? Anythink Libraries – the lowest funded library district in Colorado and the outdated come check a book model and turned them into a beacon of discovering their communities and is elevating the entire library world with their innovations.
What are the big hairy assumptions in your world? What would happen if you flip those assumptions on their head and turn them into inciting questions? By the way, if you want to know if your questions are just interesting vs. inciting look for the response from other people. If they look shocked or like you just committed heresy then you are asking the questions that are going to get you to those provocative answers. So, go ask some inciting questions that make people go… what?!!
Innovation is found in the questions not the answers.