DISCOVERY: ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS

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Guest Post by Jilli Warwicker    (First posted @ Warwickers)

I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self criticism, have brought me to my ideas … I am merely extremely inquisitive (Albert Einstein)

Discovery is about curiosity and inquisitiveness – challenging the status quo and exploring new possibilities. At its essence curiosity starts with asking questions and pursuing answers. Thinking is driven by questions not by answers. It is about inquiry, being inquisitive and thoroughly curious about life. Creative minds focus on asking great questions.

The primary discovery skill is not to search for ideas or solutions … it is to start asking great provocative and interesting questions … not necessarily complex ones … often the obvious simple ones …  others are sometimes too scared to ask. Tour outcomes are more often as a result of the questions you ask. My experience as a consultant has been that often people are so keen to find a solution or just go to task – that they miss the opportunity to explore whether they have the right question and if it is phrased in the right way. We are looking for the ‘Driving Question’. I like to ask ‘what question is that solution the answer to?’ so we can go back and explore the issue with curiosity driven questions. When you are lost it is better to seek the question than the answer first. Do you value good questions as much as good answers?

Questioning Skills

People can confuse question types with questioning skills. Developing question forming and asking skills is about broadening the range of relevant questions you ask from a wide variety of sources. There is skill in knowing when and how to re-frame questions to gain the insights you want. This skill requires thinking time to deliver quality results and plenty of practice. Questions can be to help you get clarity, gain understanding, gather information, find new perspectives and make better decisions. Learning the skill begins with a shift in mindset – a discovery, inquisitive and curious approach to everything. Think of a child who is driven to learn by just keeping asking ‘Why?’. Practice looking for and identifying great questions. Learn from those in the Media who have a natural aptitude for it and begin to develop your questioning skills. If you do not challenge the status quo, you will struggle to innovate – it all starts with questions.

Types of Questions

Start simply by considering seven prime question words – best remembered in Rudyard Kipling’s six serving men –‘WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW and WHY’ – the add in the seventh ‘WHICH’. Think of the objective of your question – what are you trying to achieve by asking it? –  is it to: open up a conversation, to close it down, to probe, to gather information, to challenge assumptions or to test/ discover ideas. Just remember two types of questions to avoid are leading (where you aim the question at the answer you want) and multiple (where you ask several questions at once). Once you are clear on your objective formulate some questions using the 7 prime words to gain new insights, connections, possibilities and connections. Basic stuff but many people have a very limited repertoire of questions they ask and too often the questions are ambiguous or leading.

Discovery POWER Questions

For DISCOVERY SKILLS the curiosity power questions for ideas include:

Learning how things are: WHAT IS? WHAT CAUSES? – What is happening? What is the situation now? What is known? (use this to uncover the known facts versus the assumptions now).

Why they are this way: WHY? WHY NOT? – Why do we do it that way? Why does it work? Why doesn’t it work? (Try the exercise of asking ’5 WHY’s?’ one after another to explore an issue/ to challenge assumptions).

How might they be reinvented, changed or improved: WHAT IF? WHAT MIGHT? – What if we turned it upside down? What might happen if customers could not find us? What might happen if we changed the …? What if we were wildly successful at … what might that look like? (Use this to generate alternatives – an opportunity to be imaginative)

Question Storming

Next time you have a new project opportunity or challenge – start by question storming rather than brain storming. Yes, it is just like brain storming but this time you are searching for great questions and the rule is you must not seek to answer them until you have completed the storm. Edward De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ is based on the idea of focusing your discussion by working through a series of colored hats that represent different outlooks – you could use this tool to identify just questions as well.

Signposts

There are plenty of resources available online to inspire you to improve your questioning skills – here are a couple of signposts to get you started.

The first tool I recommend for creative thinking and questioning is Michael Michalko’s THINKPAK – a great card deck based upon the creativity model SCAMPER. Pick a card and answer the question posed. Another similar card based tool that supports all five Discovery Skills is Roger Von Oech’s CREATIVE WHACK PACK. Both are available from Amazon.

My favorite questioner and questioning resource for creative thinking is Michael Bungay Stanier at Box of Crayons. I had the good fortune to work with Michael a few years back and this guy has a brilliant brain with the capacity to create amazing thought provoking questions. For an insight into his abilities I suggest you sign up at his Blog for his Daily Great Work Provocation and check out some of the Great Work Interviews on the Box of Crayons website. His first book that he self published – back when people didn’t self publish – is called ‘Get Unstuck and Get Going’ – it is a self coaching tool that consists entirely of great questions and anecdotes to get you thinking differently. The questions actually can be used in a variety of business idea generating sessions as well. You can purchase the book from the site.

Other Authors with that inquisitive style include Seth Godin, Michael Bates, Tom Peters and Michael Gelb. In his book ‘How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci by’ Michael Gelb’ has a great exercise under ‘Curiosita’ (An insatiable quest for knowledge and self improvement) to generate 100 questions you want to ask or answer. Have a go! He suggests you start with simple and naive questions, then awkward questions and then seek questions that have not been asked before. ‘Curiosita’ calls for a childlike wonder, inquisitiveness and willingness to challenge accepted knowledge. If you took on this mindset what would it do for your questioning skills. Again – have a go!

Jilli WarwickerJilli Warwicker is Curator and Founder of Hikmaty – focused on 21st Century Life and Career Skills Development and she also leads a Business Consultancy Team at Warwickers based from the UK specializing in Fresh Thinking and the 5C’s (Communication, Customers, Creativity, Change and Careers) in Business.  You can connect with Jilli on LinkedIn or Pinterest.  Jilli has also made a free download of her “Warwickers Fresh Thinking Mini Guide” available by clicking “Here.”

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