Guest Opinion: Asking questions equals innovation
Friday, March 15, 2013 7:00 AM
If someone had not asked, “What if we shrunk computer chips?” we might not have the computer technology of today. When the inventor of the pull-tab top for aluminum cans asked himself, “What, in nature, opens easily?” a picture of a banana popped into his mind, leading him to ask, “How can the design of the banana serve as a model for the task at hand?”
Innovation begins with being curious, by asking questions. Without curiosity, of wondering, challenging conventional thought and our ways of doing things, innovation will not flourish. We will do the same thing over and over again.
Michael Gelb, the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development, contends the model for us to follow in nurturing our curiosity in a way that leads to innovation is Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo da Vinci, considered by some as the greatest genius in human history, fostered a lifelong passion of being curious about everything. As Gelb says, “his willingness to question accepted knowledge never abated.”
How does asking questions and fostering curiosity apply to the workplace? As managers or leaders, do you place more emphasis on finding the “right answer” vs. toward asking “Is this the right question?” and “What are some different ways of looking at this problem?” So often, our immediate focus is finding answers when we solve problems that we prefer any kind of answer to none at all. Questions engage our thought and invite us to look at a problem from different perspectives. It allows us to notice ambiguity and paradox when searching for a solution or new ideas.
So, next time when you’re faced with a problem or wanting new ideas, ask your team, “What are the questions we need to ask to understand this problem and how to solve it?” Write the questions on a flipchart or a whiteboard. Invite people to ask who, what, how, where, when and why questions. Then, identify themes the questions give rise to, prioritize the questions and begin doing the serious work of answering the questions that will most likely lead you to answers you would not have thought of.
Just remember this. There are no stupid questions, but there are often stupid answers.
Kevin Pokorny is the owner of Pokorny Consulting, which among other things helps corporate and nonprofit organizations foster creativity and critical thinking.
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