Kick starting innovation with the right questions

How asking the right question is more important than having a great idea.

Look for strategic direction at early stages in any project (pic by me of Robert Rauschenberg in MoMA NYC)

Brainstorming tries to uncover solutions

Problems arise when brainstorming sessions are used in discovery stages to drive innovation. This is problematic according to Richard Wiseman whose research discovered that most brainstorming sessions look at solutions instead of problem definition. Other sources confirm brainstorming’s limits to idea generation. People reach irrational conclusions in groups due to highly biased assessments of the situation. The illusion of unanimity is created by vocal members of a group who dominate the conversation. Sometimes, workshop members may just conform to the opinion of the “highest paid person in the room”, one sided and self-censored conversations are the result.

Q-storming tries to uncover problems

One such way is question storming or “Q-storming”. When generating solutions you’ll eventually hit a wall because “people keep asking the wrong questions” says Hal Gregersen, who studied how question storming sessions are conducted. Instead of hoping that you’ll emerge from a meeting with “the answer”, the goal is to come out of it with a few promising and powerful questions. Good questions provide a sense of direction and momentum. Warren Berger writing on the power of questions notes:

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.

Question storming was advocated by design thinking heavy weights such as Tim Brown at IDEO and Charles Warren, a UX who moved from IDEO to Google where he created Google+. In Charles’ team the questions were as versatile as “How might we predict an outbreak of flu” or “How might we help people feel more comfortable sharing moments of their lives on social media?”

How to run a Q-storming workshop

The purpose of Q-storming is a strategic direction to focus efforts of problem definition and finally problem solving. Naïve questions such as “What is the most likely problem our customers will have two years from now?” and the quest to find an answer can in itself be a strategic direction for developing a product roadmap.

Sample questions

My question to you: “How are you or your organization going about poking holes into your initial assumptions of your products’ success?

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