The Creative Power of Questions

Asking creative questions can change everything. A big, beautiful question can generate ideas, inspire action, influence engagement and participation, as well as solve problems and spark creative genius.

What kinds of questions are there? According to the Buddha:

“There are these four ways of answering questions. Which four?

  • There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that].
  • There are questions that should be answered with an analytical (qualified) answer [defining or redefining the terms].
  • There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question.
  • There are questions that should be put aside.

These are the four ways of answering questions.”

Perhaps we don’t ask enough questions. Maybe we’re in a hurry to share our knowledge, or afraid to risk appearing ignorant. And, managers, at least many of the ones I coach, are often dedicated to quickly solving problems and telling people what to do.

But a good question can be a creative path towards better understanding and insights. Provocative questions can answer most conundrums of life and work. Albert Einstein allegedly said that if someone gave him one hour to solve a problem, he would spend the first 55 minutes making sure he was answering the right question.

In business, we don’t ask enough questions for fear of appearing stupid or uninformed. Or we don’t want to challenge authority or be disruptive. But research is showing that there are many kinds of questions and, asked in the right way, they can lead to breakthrough thinking and disruptive innovations, such as those created by Airbnb, Uber, Pandora, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Apple and many others.

Think about the way you do your work today – emails, internet research, social media connections, mobile smart phones and tablets, online banking. None of these conveniences were available fifteen years ago.

Inventors and creative people ask important questions like:

  • “Why can’t we…?”
  • “Isn’t there a better way to…?”
  • “How come we can’t just…?”
  • “What’s a better, faster way to do this?”

They envision solutions and then work hard to find ways to implement devices and services. But it’s my belief you don’t have to be a genius to do this. You do need to observe and ask questions, however—especially those questions that nobody seems to have an answer for.

And of course it’s important to ask questions with others who can contribute to the thinking process. Are you doing that? I’d love to hear about your ideas and questions. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

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