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Use Questions to Drive Innovation, Inspire Creativity

Use Your Next Event to Raise Powerful Questions  and Generate Ideas bigstock-group-of-businessman-in-black--23644574

When I ask my clients where they come up with their best ideas, the top answers are always the same:  in the shower, driving, in the washroom (perhaps a little bit too much information, but interesting to note),  doing some form of exercise such as jogging,  and in bed.  Where’s the LAST place my clients (and other surveys) mention as a great place for coming up with ideas?  Work!

Evidently work is the place where ideas go to die.

Work is, of course,  where we need ideas the most—particularly in this economy.  Which is why you never need to stop questioning everything and everyone.

You see, the creative process doesn’t begin with that light bulb moment in the shower. It really began a day, a week or even six months earlier, when your mind began wrestling with a problem or thinking about an opportunity.

It’s like the old tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, where you can’t remember Bob’s name, but you know it starts with the letter “B.” Six hours later, while dining in a romantic restaurant with your spouse, you suddenly scream out the name “Bob!” after it comes to you in a blinding flash.  That’s because your subconscious mind was still trying to solve the problem you sent its way six hours earlier.

Which is just one of the reasons why creative people and innovative organizations ask a lot of questions. Questions drive the creative process. Questions fuel curiosity.  When leaders ask their employees  (or themselves, for that matter) questions, they are planting the seeds that a day, a week, or six months later, might just blossom into a truly brilliant idea.

And questions do more than plant idea seeds.  Questions engage people.  Questions send the message to people that we respect their opinion and that we trust them.  Questions let our newest employees know that we value their fresh perspective; they let our veterans know we value their experience.

Questions are also conversation starters, as opposed to mono-syllabic answers, which tend to be conversation stoppers (please see your nearest teen-ager for an example).   Questions can turn monotonous monologues into engaging, passionate dialogues, which is what every truly inspiring and innovative meeting needs more of.

How do You Catch a Big Fish? Use a Big Hook

So naturally, if we want big ideas and big conversations to come out of our meetings we need to ask big questions. Bold questions.  Uncomfortable questions.  Weird questions. Wacky questions.  Unconventional questions.

The Edge organization uses this approach with great success, asking a different question each year to a collection of “today’s leading thinkers.”  The answers to the question of the year are summarized in a series of books edited by John Brockman, including, “What Have You Changed Your Mind About?”,  “What are You Optimistic About?”, “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” and “What Do You Believe But Cannot Prove.”

The four books offer up a fascinating range of controversial ideas, opposing viewpoints, and fascinating perspectives. And, as with any good question, the range of answers beget even more questions.

So gain a competitive edge at your next event by borrowing a page from the Edge playbook and the next time you hold a meeting, rather than having a statement theme (“Managing Change for the Future”  blah blah blah) try a question theme that asks a thought-provoking question:  “Why will our industry still be relevant in the year 2020?”

Use networking breaks to encourage people to pose the question to each other and to solicit at least three answers from everyone they encounter.  Challenge your speakers to offer insights and ideas related to the question from their unique perspective.   Have a panel discussion featuring four of the boldest answers to the question.   Ask participants what other questions the theme question raises,   and ask if you are even asking the right question!

Keep in mind, the goal isn’t necessarily to definitively answer the question or to come up with that one breakthrough idea. The goal is to stimulate thought and conversation, to help people connect, and ideally, come up with not just one right answer, but dozens of right answers.

And maybe, a few more questions.

Copyright Michael Kerr, 2014

Michael Kerr is the author of “Inspiring Workplaces,” “Putting Humor to Work,” and “The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.” Reach Michael at: 866-609-2640;


Copyright © 2018, Michael Kerr. All rights reserved.
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