Thought-provoking questions: potential game changers that are not asked nearly enough
“To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted,” wrote George F. Kneller (1909–1999), the American academic and pioneer in the field of philosophy of education, in Art and Science of Creativity (1965.) Many people don’t know how to probe their thought processes with questions that encourage creativity.
Consider a brainstorming meeting where a new idea was received with comments and judgments like, “this won’t work,” “we’ve never done it this way,” “the customer won’t like it,” or, “if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done before?” Immediately, a dysfunctional pattern ensues. Defensiveness sets in and the meeting’s participants will resist making any more suggestions and will fail to explore those ideas that were previously made. (One of the key principles of “divergent thinking” for idea-generation is to defer judgment. Neuroscience has suggested that the human prefrontal cortex—the self-monitoring element of the brain—is less active when we’re most creative.)
Creative thinkers ask open-ended, accommodating, and exploratory lead-in questions such as,
- “I wonder if/why/whether … “
- “Perhaps we could … “
- “That would work if/when … “
- “In what ways can we … .” This favorite of mine was introduced by Edward de Bono, the lateral thinking pioneer and creator of the “Six Thinking Hats” method for group creativity. De Bono called this lead-in question the ‘IWW.’
Instead of declaring “we could never do this,” ask “IWW (in what ways) may people start to do this?” In practical terms, this rephrasing may seem a small thing, but it embodies a leap in unhindered, open-minded thinking. The former seems a categorical rejection; but the latter invites an exploration of possibilities and signals the beginning of the search for solutions to constraints.
Idea for Impact: The ability to pose meaningful—and often deceptively simple questions is the hallmark of creativity
Often, what leads a creative person to get fresh insight is the quality of questions he/she asks. Questions such as “I wonder if …” and “In what ways can we … ” ignite dialogues in your mind that can lead to creative insights and new discoveries.
The prospect for creative thinking expands when you can reframe restraining statements into creative questions. Consider the following examples:
- Restraining statement: “We can’t possibly do that.”
Creative question: “If it were possible, how would you do it?”
- Restraining statement: “It’ll take too long.”
Creative question: “If it’s time-consuming, how can I make it short?”
- Restraining statement: “I can’t talk to her.”
Creative question: “If you could talk to her, what would you say?”
- Restraining statement: “I’m too busy to do this.”
Creative question: “In what ways can we free up some time for you?”
During brainstorming, asking questions in a way that opens participants’ minds to newer possibilities can have a transformative shift in the creative atmosphere. When participants suspend their judgments, everyone in the brainstorming session will feel comfortable enough to explore creative solutions to constraints.