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.

The Paradox of the Familiar and the New

Customers are a fickle lot. You produce what your research tells you will sell, and you end up with a lemon, or it fails to produce the results you seek. Why is this?

If customers are going to buy a new offering it has to appeal to them, not just in terms of the needs it satisfies, but in how it gets over the initial barrier of being attractive to them.

Customers are torn between a curiosity about new things and a fear of anything too new. So people tend to be attracted to offerings that are bold, but instantly comprehensible. Raymond Loewy, the industrial designer, who came up with this idea called it MAYA – ““Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.

Think of Apple and the iPad.  The technology was not new – it combined different technologies in a clever way, but what made it stand out was its design and the user experience that it created for the iPad’s users.

People like what is familiar, but if they are over-exposed to it then it becomes overfamiliar and they tire of it.  How many times could you listen to your favorite song before you get tired of it, or stop listening properly to it? It is probably fewer than you think. Similarly, although people may like surprises if the surprise is too much then it becomes counter-productive.

To get the best of both worlds – that which is familiar to people, and that which represents a surprise – requires a balance. The power of familiarity seems to be strongest when a person isn’t expecting it; and a surprise seems to work best when it contains some element of familiarity. This has been described as having a level of “optimal newness”.

Internet companies provide a good example of this where many new ideas are promoted as a fresh spin on familiar successes..  For example, Airbnb was once called “eBay for homes.”; Uber was described as “Airbnb for cars”; and with Uber’s success may start-ups have begun describing themselves as “Uber for [anything].” In the movies, the film “Alien” eventually found the financial backing it required when it described the plot as “Jaws in space” – the film and plot of “Jaws” being very familiar, and the locating the story in space providing the surprise.

So when you look to bring new offerings to market ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How will I make it familiar?
  2. How will I make it surprising:
  3. How will I make it familiar when a person least expects it, and make it surprising yet still somewhat familiar?

Answering these questions will help you generate ideas and approaches to try with your customers and make your new offerings more successful.

What is your key takeaway from this?

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.