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  • Writer's pictureMark Faulkner

Are You Asking The Right Questions ?

One of the traits of successful innovative organizations is how much effort they put into actively seeking out new problems to solve.

The Innovation Question

A successful, collaborative, innovation session will therefore require everyone to agree and understand the focus of the session, the problem to be solved.

Whilst this may seem obvious and straightforward, the task of creating a shared understanding of the current situation let alone future possibilities is much more complex than meets the eye.

We create frames for what we see, hear, and experience all day long, and those frames both inform and limit the way we think. In most cases, we don’t even consider the frames, we just assume we are looking at the world through the same lens as everyone else.

Reframing problems takes effort, attention, and practice, and allows us to see the world around us in a brand-new light, increasing our imagination and unlocking a vast array of solutions.

We can practice re-framing by physically or mentally changing our point of view, by seeing the world from others’ perspectives, and by asking questions that begin with “why.”

“The most common source of management mistakes is not the failure to find the right answers. It is the failure to ask the right questions. Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question.”
Peter Drucker

Asking the right questions

Good quality innovation questions need to set a clear and shared understanding of direction for everyone in the group. Questions need to be open so that the group can engage in exploring a wide range of potential ideas but concise enough to ensure we are working on the same challenge.

Idea storming for questions rather than answers makes it easier to push past cognitive biases and venture into uncharted territory, fresh questions often lead to novel, transformative insights.

The aim for this session is to identify the most productive question for the group to innovate solutions to answer.

The best questions tend to:

  • Be open Vs closed and short Vs long

  • Have no obvious or simple answer , they pose a complex problem that will require breakthrough thinking.

  • Be closely linked to the problem space and what the group wants to achieve.

How to:

  1. Start the session by outlining the perceived problem space, disruptor, opportunity or challenge that you would like to explore.

  2. Ask other members of the group to describe the situation as they see it to ensure that the group has a broad and shared understanding of the situation.

  3. Pass out post-it notes and felt pens and spend the next 4 minutes collectively generating as many questions as possible about the challenge. At this stage don’t allow discussion on anyone’s contributions. The more surprising and diverse the questions are, the better.

  4. Remove duplicates and cluster questions into themes so that related questions are clustered together

  5. Prepare to vote – give each person three votes and ask them to vote for the questions they believe will produce the best results by placing a dot or tick on the appropriate post-it notes.

  6. Ask everyone to cluster around the post-its and to cast their votes together; this can help to minimize group think.

  7. The question with the highest number of votes becomes the basis for the ‘Innovation Question’ for the group

  8. Begin to draft the innovation question using the prefix ‘how might we….

  9. Rewrite the question several times with the team until everyone is agreed that you have succinctly captured the essence of the problem or opportunity.


  • No solutionising – it is very tempting to start offering solutions, make it clear that good ideas and solutions will be very welcome in the next stage

  • Positivity – this is a solution focused process; the purpose is to understand the situation so that we can generate fresh thinking.

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