October 6, 2022

How good questions can change the world

October 6, 2022

Which do you think is better– good answers or good questions?

Solving problems and getting the right answers is an amazing skill. For years, it has helped people, be it at work or on a regular weekend, to swiftly solve a task and logically work a way into a solution.

On the other hand, the art of good questioning is also becoming important. Questions governed by innocence uncover the cause of a surface problem and lay down the foundation to understand future problems that are yet to be solved.

There was a time in our lives when we were all great seekers of questions. We were curious kids who wondered about everything our fingers touched and our eyes saw. We asked with innocence and had no intellectual insecurities. Everything was magical, at least for a time because we lost this superpower.

In school however, we gradually lost sight of our magic. We were taught only to ask questions which warranted a definitive answer and never those which questioned the possibilities. And for good reason; the mind when faced with something foreign has the immediate reflex to shy away. The unknown, while interesting, can also have its fair share of fright. Sometimes I wonder if the system had taught us to think creatively, would we be at the pace of innovation we’re at right now?

The greatest questions ever asked have formed the era we live in today. It was because a handful of people thought like the kids they were again that they were able to ask how they can reimagine the world and start working on it. If we want to continue moving as a people in search of the next big thing, we have to start asking questions that can get us there.

Here are 3 tips in asking questions that move people:

Be generative

Have you ever tried asking a question you already know the answer to just to show off? The reason most meetings always go the extra length of time is that instead of asking to get to the bottom of a problem, people ask away to let everyone know that their thoughts come from superior intellect. This is dangerous as it compromises the conversation from ever moving forward.

Generative questions turn problems into possibilities and are meant to invite thoughtful decisions that focus on achieving the outcome. Powerful questions start with WHY, HOW, and WHAT. Less powerful questions start with WHICH and are YES/NO oriented.

An example of a generative question can look like this-“How can we move from where we are to where we want to be?” This structure generates more questions, sparks a need to know and invites curiosity.

Asking the right questions is hard. It becomes even harder when it has to be done on top of intentionally listening to a speaker. What’s been effective for me though is this formula:

Acknowledge the idea + Respectfully and elaborately discuss your questions + Offer an alternative perspective

Think from an outside perspective

When we find ourselves in a creative slump, don’t we always look some inspiration up online or ask a friend for their thoughts? Just when we thought we’re running out of ideas and are stuck in a corner, a fresh look at the problem from an outside perspective opens a barrage of possibilities we’ve never even thought about.

What if we learned to look at problems from different angles? The Social Innovation Academy shares with us a few tips:

  • Rename the problem - Without it losing its meaning, giving another name to the issue at hand can generate new connections and help unclog what was previously stuck. Is it high staff turnover that’s affecting your business, or rather retention difficulties?
  • Reformulate it on the reverse - You could also attempt to tackle the issue from the core outwards. Are you trying to prevent something from happening? How about going for the opposite reaction?
  • Put stuff into boxes - It might be worth trying to compartmentalize the problem into smaller elements. Dealing with one piece of the issue at a time will help ease the workload and, in turn, help speed things up.

Looking at the problem from a singular perspective can only make it appear more complicated. Keep thinking, keep asking until you stumble upon the best question for the solution.

Approach with curiosity

At some point, questions stop becoming magical. I was a curious kid– everything I saw, I asked about. We were all kids and we loved the idea of discovering something new and just basking in the thought of that idea.

Until we had to ask questions because we needed an answer ASAP and the school needed only one. What if we thought like the kids we were again and asked the wildest questions without second guessing ourselves.

Harvard business review highlights that questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.

When we don’t ask good questions, we take away the opportunity for people to stimulate creativity and ideate. We create problems which should not have come up in the first place.

No one person is a master in asking good questions. We’re all in a constant process of learning and trying new things and asking questions are guides to ensure if we’re on the right track. They help us steer your ideas towards impactful, implementable, and meaningful design outcomes.

Ask that question. Change the world.


Social Innovation Academy

Turning Problems into Possibilities

Importance of Asking Questions in Design Thinking

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