The Innovation Blog

An Innovation Fable - Hunters, Guns, and a Four Year Old

Posted by Creative Realities on February 23, 2011

What’s behind the question?  How many times do we ask that in our daily conversations or interactions?  In my case, as you’ll read shortly, it’s at least one time too few.  Regardless of my travails, understanding when this question should and should not be used to enhance creative thinking and innovation is a lesson that everyone should learn.

The other day I found myself in the middle of a rapid fire questioning session with my 4 year old.  As anyone with children is well aware, this can occur at almost any time.  This instance found me sitting in the car with my daughter trying to answer the question “What does a hunter do?” 

Well, first of all I’m wondering, how does she even know about hunters? What is her big brother telling her now?  Who is the bad influence at preschool?  But, without a sure way to get a true answer to any of those questions, I simply say, “They kill animals.”

My momentarily contented daughter then says, “How do they do it?”  Again unsure of what I want to say here, I answer with, “Well, they usually use a gun or a bow and arrow.”  As I’m saying this I’m glancing into the rear-view mirror in hopes of getting some sense of how this is going over, but I’m still not reading much more then general curiosity.

Next she says, “Hunter’s have guns? …Where do they get the guns?”

My straightforward reply, “At a store.”

She then says somewhat in disbelief, “A gun store?”

“Yes,” I answer.

With even more amazement she questions, “How do they buy the guns?”

“With money,” I say.

Quickly and with even more disbelief and incredulity she says, “Hunters have money?!?  I didn’t know hunters have money!  Where do they get it?  Where do they keep it?”

At this, I glance back to see her eyes as big as golf balls, she is completely upright. Her "at attention" posture pressing into the seatbelt so hard she is practically falling out of the booster seat.  It is at this moment that I realize something is NOT connecting.  I say, “Honey, what do you ALREADY know about hunters?”

She answers innocently, “In one of the books in our house, I know there is a hunter on one of the pages we read.  It’s the one that is all yellow.”  She goes on with, “The body, the head, all 4 of the legs… they are all yellow.  Mom, do you know the book?” 

Yes, I do know the book, and I’m now enlightened to the fact that my daughter is mentally visualizing a mountain lion going into a gun store, opening up his handbag, throwing down some money, and then going off to shoot other animals.  No wonder she was amazed.  That conversation just changed her entire world!

Of course I amended the story so she now knows hunter from predator, but what did I learn from this exchange?

  1. Every individual approaches a question, problem, or idea with a different perspective.  A different set of experiences can significantly change the way something is viewed, heard, and processed.  
  2. The phrase “What’s behind your question?” can be very powerful.  In my case, asking would have quickly moved the conversation with my daughter to the more appropriate topic of mountain lions in the backcountry.  However, not asking got us to gun slinging big cats with handbags.

There is often deeper meaning to the questions we ask, and, although it takes a little effort to get at it, doing so can tell you a lot about where someone is coming from as well as keep things running smoothly!  Embracing different perspectives is part of the foundation of the innovation process.  A unique perspective is the door to absurdity, which is where the magic happens in innovation.  It’s the place where cats CAN have handbags, so who knows what’s next!

- Tamara Wickramasinghe, Business Innovationist

Topics: Communication, divergent thinking, Tamara Wickramasinghe, Innovation, brainstorming, connection making