The Innovation Blog

Innovation Nightmares: Killer Questions, and How to Get Around Them

Posted by Creative Realities on February 9, 2011

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When it comes to brainstorming, questions have the potential to disrupt the flow of ideas.  When one comes up, everyone zooms out from their individual mental flights and focuses on the question.  This, in turn, typically leads to extensive discussion, and you can lose an incredible amount of your brainstorm time to unproductive conversation.  Worse yet, all too often the question is not actually a question!

From our extensive experience in the innovation space, we’ve found that, more often than not, questions tend to be masked ideas.  People wary of having an idea criticized couch their offers in the form of a question – “What if we…?”  This not only has the aforementioned side effects, but can even result in the idea going unnoticed.  It is our job as facilitators to pick up on when this happens, and then extract and capture the idea.  This restores order to the group, and builds confidence in the ideator.    

But, hey, what if we just need more information?!?  OK. Questions for clarification are *occasionally* necessary especially if the resource group has only been given limited background detail for the task at hand.  This is why we always cover a series of questions that extract the (minimum amount of) necessary information for the group to be able to ideate.  Give them too much and you constrain where they will go with their ideas, and that’s bad for newness. 

The questions:

  1. Why are you here? What’s the task at hand and why does it represent an opportunity for you and/or your company?
  2. What is necessary to know about this task from a background or historical perspective?
  3. Who has the power of decision-maker in regards to this task and also the output of the session? 
  4. What have you thought of and tried already to address the task?
  5. How can this group best be of help to you? And, what does success look like for you?

That’s enough to get the group what they need to be productive – and still open – idea generators!  If you follow these simple steps, then you will position any brainstorming session to get off the ground running, and as a facilitator you will be prepared to say, “What’s behind your question?” and keep your group open and ideating. 


- Clay Maxwell (@bizinovationist)

Topics: creativity, Clay Maxwell, Ideas, questions, Innovation, Collaboration, brainstorming