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Brain circuits

Make questions your superpower: Three techniques to start asking better questions

Published 24 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

The next time you’re stuck on a challenge or opportunity, try doing a “question burst” to recast your problems in valuable new ways. It helps people adopt a more creative habit of thinking and, when they’re looking for breakthroughs, gives them a sense of control. There’s actually something they can do other than sit and wait for a bolt from the blue.

Ask questions that impose or eliminate constraints

We face many different types of constraints including time, finances, resources, knowledge, or regulatory constraints. Research suggests that constraints can actually be good for you, driving innovation if you embrace them as a leader. Constraints give us focus and direction and force us to adopt creative problem-solving based on available resources.

You can use constraint thinking to ask good questions. When you impose constraints when you are asking questions, you train yourself to be more creative about how to solve problems and that’s a good way to produce new growth ideas. For example, you could ask, “What if we couldn’t conduct any future business with our current customers, how would we generate revenues?” You can also reverse that thinking and ask what if there were no constraints, for example, “What if money or technology were limitless, how would we add value to our customers?”

Ask killer questions

This is about asking provocative questions with either a positive or a negative approach, and they must be open-ended questions.

For instance, you could ask, “What do people hate most about our product or service?” Or you could ask, “What is the most outstanding feature about our company or aspect of our service, and why?”

Use a question burst

You can use this technique any time you (in a group or individually) are feeling stuck or trying to imagine new possibilities. In short, instead of trying to quickly generate new ideas about the challenge, ask as many questions as you can about the challenge during a defined period, usually four minutes. Posing different and better questions has the power to lead you and your team into a new and more productive pathway. It can foster a culture of collective problem-solving.

There are two rules to the question burst: No one is allowed to give answers or explain why they’re asking the question. This way you’re not restraining the way other people see the problem or opportunity.

Step one, set the stage: Invite people with different worldviews or perspectives who might not know a lot about your daily business. You use two minutes or less to explain your problem, focus on how you are stuck, and how the world would be better if the problem was solved.

Step two, brainstorm the questions: Set the timer for four minutes and ask all participants to come up with as many questions as possible about the challenge. brainstorm for questions, not solutions. Write all the questions down. Don’t answer any of the questions, and don’t explain your questions.

Step three, identify the quest and commit to it: Select questions that offer new perspectives, make you feel a bit uncomfortable, disrupt the status quo, the ones that are worth researching and seem most relevant.

I recommend doing three rounds of the question burst because with each round you gain a better understanding of the issue, and you will probably hit the most critical questions. Repeat the process frequently and improve at asking better questions over time.

Authors

Louise Muhdi

Louise Muhdi

Affiliate Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Dr. Louise Muhdi is passionate about innovation management, strategy development and execution, entrepreneurship, business transformation, emerging game-changing technologies, life sciences, healthcare, sustainability, leadership and organizational culture. Thanks to her extensive research, teaching and experience as an executive, she has a truly holistic understanding of business ecosystems, dynamics, drivers and challenges as well as customer, partner and stakeholder requirements and needs.

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