Does my bum look big in this? As every man knows, this is a question that is impossible to answer. Say ‘yes’ and you will either be dead within seconds or you will be drowning in tears to the words ‘Are you saying I’m fat and ugly? You don’t love me any more do you?’ Reply ‘no’ and you will be accused of not wanting your partner to be slim and resemble a supermodel.

Joking aside, what sort of question is this anyway? Does it help, is there likely to be a way forward, can we develop a win-win situation? Much of creative thinking and hence innovation projects are based on subtle questions being asked at the right time. The art of questioning is paramount. Here are some examples of frequently heard, but not always helpful questions together with some suggested alternatives:

  • Why do we always do it this way? What sort of things would happen if we did it this (or any other) way?
  • Will it work? If it does not work, what is likely to happen?
  • How much will it cost? What is the target cost that we need to be aiming for?
  • What are we doing this for? The learning opportunities are incredible. Can we explore all of the options and capture the results?
  • When can we have a meeting to discuss this? We will start doing some prototyping and let you know our initial results as soon as we have them!

These alone could cause some of your team to lose the will to live. Assume you do actually get started, what about some questions that will help the creative process? The questions you ask will depend on whether you want to stimulate thinking, shift perspective, motivate others or break mindsets to name just a few.Here are one or two suggestions:

  • What would happen if we added banana flavouring? – random stimulus
  • What would happen if we did not do this at all? – shift perspective
  • All options are open, can we explore as many as possible and record our findings? – motivational
  • As we are all here can we try plan b instead of plan a and see what happens? – break mindset with different method plus peer pressure

As ever, this article is designed to make readers think about the questions they use. Oh and about the question in the title. Say ‘you look great’, ‘I agree with you’ or encourage a question of the type ‘I think I look great/fat/ugly/young, don’t you agree?’ If you think this is still fraught with danger then pretend not to hear the question.

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