How to Use Question-Storming to Innovate

…a better way than brainstorming when innovating

The idea of brain-storming is to get a group of diverse people to generate a lot of ideas, without judgement, in order to discover a solution to a problem. It has its use at times, but the problem is that it doesn’t work!

Why do I say this?

There are two key problems with brain-storming. Firstly, the problem starts at the beginning when we look to solve a problem rather than to find a problem. We have already defined what the problem is we believe that we “know” what the problem is when we do not. Next time you are in a brain-storming session, before you start, ask everyone to write down, without sharing what they have written), what the problem is that they are going to brainstorm.  You will get as many answers as there are people. Although there may be aspects of the problem that people share there is no commonly shared and consistent understanding of the problem.

Secondly, although there may be no judgement of ideas in the initial stage of brain-storming a lot of people will tend to self-censor as they know the ideas will be judged at some point. This limits the creative thinking and the ability for people to think freely.

The Right Question Institute has developed the question-storming method where the focus is on generating questions, not ideas, which tend to be judged more harshly than questions.  When people brain-storm there is a point when people can’t think of any more ideas. Part of this is because the group is asking the wrong questions – this is a good time to start question-storming.

The Right Question Institute has developed a process for this, the Question Formulation Technique, which includes the following steps:

  1. Design a question focus.

Here you provide a focus for the group so that people can generate their own questions.

  1. Produce questions.

There are four rules for producing questions:

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Do not stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any question.
  3. Write down every question exactly as it was asked.
  4. Change any statements into questions.

As a group generate at least fifty questions about the problem being “stormed”.  Write down all the questions so that everyone can see them and try to think of a better question.

Questions tend to be easier than ideas to come up with. Note that just because you have thought of a question does not mean you have to have a solution for it.

As you go through this you will find that people have slightly different ways of framing or approaching the problem. If you have a large group then split the group into smaller sub-groups to encourage interaction between people.

Often groups stall at around 25 questions.  Don’t stop here as often the best questions come as you get to the fiftieth or seventy-fifth.

  1. Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions.

Improve the questions generated by:

  1. Making open questions closed, and
  2. Making closed questions open

For example:

From

 

To

How can we make the same profit at half the margin?

Open to Closed

Can we make the same profit at half the margin?
Do we focus on a different customer group?

Closed to  Open

What other customer groups should we think about focusing on?
  1. Prioritize questions.

Allow the group to prioritize the top three questions that need to be explored further. The reversing of the questions helps to winnow down the questions as the best questions become magnetic and draw people to them. So people converge around them. From this the group can discern which questions are the top three questions that need to be addressed.

  1. Plan next steps.

Use the three questions to help you develop ideas and solutions for the problem.

Stop and reflect on what you have learnt, found out and developed as a result of this process. What do you need to do next and what plans do you need to develop.

So next time  you are looking to innovate, solve problems or come up with a new way of doing things don’t look for the right answer, look for the right question!

What is your key takeaway from this?

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

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