Just as an accurate road map can lead you to your destination, a good question can lead you to the optimal answer. People tend to focus on answers and not spend time crafting important questions, but a good question is a powerful tool. It can lead you to the deepest truth possible. It may lead you directly to an answer, or you may have to roll it over in your mind for a while. You may have to walk with it.
When beginning the creative process, the right question allows you to zero in on the core issue so you avoid solving a symptom or a tangential problem. A good technique for getting to the deepest reality is called the "Seven Whys." Once you've determined what problem you want to solve, ask why you want to solve that problem. If your answer is because you want to make more profits, ask why you want to have more profits, and so on. After asking "Why?" seven times, you may end up changing your goal or strategy. Then focus on finding the creative solution to that core challenge.
One critical value of learning how to be creative is that it becomes easier to think beyond the current norm. However, stepping out of the status quo that defines what is possible isn't easy. A question devised by Joel A. Barker, the author of Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future (HarperBusiness) and Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms of Success (William Morrow), can help you do this. His paradigm-shifting question is, "What is impossible to do today, but if it could be done, would fundamentally change our organization for the better?" This opens up new options that you can evaluate and begin moving toward.
Barker suggests questioning your world view purposefully and regularly. He uses the example of the Swiss watch industry to demonstrate his point. The Swiss invented the quartz watch; however, it did not fit their paradigm of a watch as something mechanical with intricate moving parts. As a result, no Swiss companies patented this invention, which allowed other companies to seize the opportunity and take away their centuries-long dominance in the manufacture and sale of watches. Blinded by their limited view of a watch, the Swiss lost out on a huge opportunity generated by their own innovation.
So when you're coming up with good questions, don't forget to ask the one creators love to ask: "I wonder what would happen if . . . ?"
Juanita Weaver is a creativity coach and consultant. She'd like to hear how your company sparks creativity.