Question Storming, A Better Way to Innovate

…a better way than brainstorming when innovating

The idea of brainstorming is to get a group of diverse people to generate a lot of ideas, without judgment, in order to discover a solution to a problem. It has its use at times, but the problem is that it doesn’t work!

Why do I say this?

There are two key problems with brainstorming.

Firstly, the problem starts at the beginning when we look to solve a problem rather than to find a problem. We have already defined what the problem is we believe that we “know” what the problem is when we do not. Next time you are in a brain-storming session, before you start, ask everyone to write down, without sharing what they have written), what the problem is that they are going to brainstorm.  You will get as many answers as there are people. Although there may be aspects of the problem that people share there is no commonly shared and consistent understanding of the problem.

Secondly, although there may be no judgment of ideas in the initial stage of brainstorming a lot of people will tend to self-censor as they know the ideas will be judged at some point. This limits the creative thinking and the ability for people to think freely.

The Right Question Institute has developed the question-storming method where the focus is on generating questions, not ideas, which tend to be judged more harshly than questions.  When people brainstorm there is a point when people can’t think of any more ideas. Part of this is because the group is asking the wrong questions – this is a good time to start question-storming.

The Right Question Institute has developed a process for this, the Question Formulation Technique, which includes the following steps:

1. Design a question focus.

Here you provide a focus for the group so that people can generate their own questions.

2. Produce questions.

There are four rules for producing questions:

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Do not stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any question.
  3. Write down every question exactly as it was asked.
  4. Change any statements into questions.

As a group generates at least fifty questions about the problem being “stormed”.  Write down all the questions so that everyone can see them and try to think of a better question.

Questions tend to be easier than ideas to come up with. Note that just because you have thought of a question does not mean you have to have a solution for it.

As you go through this you will find that people have slightly different ways of framing or approaching the problem. If you have a large group then split the group into smaller sub-groups to encourage interaction between people.

Often groups stall at around 25 questions.  Don’t stop here as often the best questions come as you get to the fiftieth or seventy-fifth.

3. Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions.

Improve the questions generated by:

  1. Making open questions closed, and
  2. Making closed questions open

For example:

4. Prioritize questions.

Allow the group to prioritize the top three questions that need to be explored further. The reversing of the questions helps to winnow down the questions as the best questions become magnetic and draw people to them. So people converge around them. From this, the group can discern which questions are the top three questions that need to be addressed.

5. Plan next steps.

Use the three questions to help you develop ideas and solutions for the problem. 3.

6. Reflect.

Stop and reflect on what you have learned, found out and developed as a result of this process. What do you need to do next and what plans do you need to develop.

So next time you are looking to innovate, solve problems or come up with a new way of doing things don’t look for the right answer, look for the right question!

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here.

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

4 Questions for Debriefing and Learning

Four key questions by which to learn from your experiences!

We often get so involved in doing the work, that we rarely make the time to review how we are doing in a structured and creative manner that allows us to extend our curiosity into what has happened, and to learn why. In short, we rarely take the time to debrief and when we do so, we generally do it poorly.

Debriefings can help you accelerate projects, innovate new approaches to problems, and hit difficult objectives. More than a casual conversation about what did and didn’t work, a debriefing digs into why things happened.

“Two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe” – ALBERT EINSTEIN

A debrief should review four key questions:

1.What were we trying to accomplish? Start by restating the objectives you were trying to achieve.

2.Where did we hit (or miss) our objectives? Review your results, and ensure the group is aligned and has a shared understanding of what has happened.

3. What caused our results? This should go deeper than obvious, first-level answers. You need to go beyond the symptoms and get to the underlying causes of your results. A good way to do this is to use the Five Whys Tool.  Here you take the first-level result, and ask “Why did we achieve this result?” This exposes a second-level item. Ask the same question again. You normally do not need to ask this question more than five times.

Example:

Results:  Sales down by 25% compared to the same time last year.

Why? #1 – Because the market is more competitive.

Why is the market more competitive?

Why? #2 – Customer demand for our products is down

Why has customer demand reduced?

Why? #3 – The market price has come down and we are charging a high price.

Why are we unable to sell our quality products for a higher price?

Why? #4 – Because the sales force lacks the skills to sell the value of our product.

Why is the Salesforce unable to sell on value?

Why? #5 – Because we don’t hire the right people with these skills, or develop these skills in our existing sale team.

Solution: to address the fall in sales we need to train, equip and incentivize our sales people to sell on value, not on price.

1. What should we start, stop, or continue doing? Given the root causes uncovered, what should we do next, now that we know what we know?

Debriefing provides you and your team with a structured learning process that allows you to continuously evolve plans while they’re being executed in the light of your experience and results.  This helps you to learn quickly in rapidly changing situations and to address mistakes or changes quickly and effectively.

Remember, no plan goes to plan – never. We need to learn to adapt, and we need to adapt to survive, and we need to survive if we are to thrive.  Debriefing is an ongoing process that needs to be built in as a core part of your work, not something that is ancillary to it.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

If you found this article of use or interest please don’t hesitate to share it with others.

Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.