*Following is an excerpt from my new book, STRATEGIC.

Consider the most fascinating conversations, movies, or companies you’ve experienced and it’s quickly apparent that they were fueled by an intriguing question or questions that sparked your interest. What if we moved to the west coast? What if an alien life form visited earth and only hunted by sound? What if you could have 100 million songs in the palm of your hand?

It’s clear how powerful questions can be to transport us to mental oases to inspire innovation and solve challenges. Why then, do we invest so little time in them? Research shows that between the ages of 3 and 5, the average child asks approximately 100 questions per day. By the age of 12, the number of questions a child asks plummets to nearly zero. This trend infiltrates adulthood and the workplace as well. The next time a challenge or issue arises on your team, clock the amount of time spent on coming up with the solution versus the question. In many workplaces, the ratio is 90:10, which is the opposite of what great thinkers such as Albert Einstein espouse: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

It takes a confident leader to invest a larger chunk of time exploring the right question to frame the challenge because knocking around questions can appear inefficient to the group. There can be a strong prevailing meeting wind to “just get on with it” and move to the solution portion of the conversation, which feels more productive, and representative of progress being made.

However, it’s exactly that extra time required to create and ponder questions that enable us to bring together disparate and distant ideas that form the basis of the combinatorial thinking at the heart of innovation. Examples of combinatorial thinking can be found in the DNA of companies such as Spotify, which is a combination of a radio station, library, and subscription health club and Airbnb, which is a combination of a B&B (bed & breakfast), travel agency, and social media hub.

Here are several techniques that may be helpful in developing your ability to use questions to innovate:

1. Create a Question Log. As you move throughout your day, record questions that come to mind or you’re exposed to through others that stimulate productive thinking. Invest time at the end of the week or month to review the questions in your log, refine them, and begin putting them into categories (e.g., competitor questions, customer questions, culture questions, etc.) for future reference.

2. Question Storming. When you’re in a group meeting to review a challenge or issue, have people take 5 minutes individually and record 10-20 questions regarding the subject at hand. Then have people share their questions and identify 3-5 questions to drive the remainder of the conversation.

3. SCAMPER. Employ the SCAMPER acronym to the situation using the following questions:

  • Substitute: What can be substituted? (Automated Teller Machine [ATM] for bank teller)
  • Combine: What can be combined? (Theatre + circus = Cirque du Soleil)
  • Adapt: What can evolve into something new? (CVS into CVS MinuteClinics)
  • Magnify: What can be made larger or more important? (Delivery speed: Amazon Marketplace)
  • Put to other use: How else can things be used? (Butcher’s disassembly line for auto assembly line)
  • Eliminate: What can be eliminated or removed from this? (Dyson vacuum removing the traditional bag)
  • Reverse/rearrange: What could we reverse or rearrange? (Enterprise Rent-A-Car will pick you up instead of you picking up the car)

It’s a primary responsibility of the leader is to set strategic direction, then inherently you must take on an explorer’s mindset. You must be willing to move into uncharted territory by asking candid questions that unearth insights at the deepest level. Too often leaders present instead of inquire because it’s a safer path, it’s scripted, and they can control the outcome. However, that’s not where the real magic lies. Taking the time to consider what question will spark the most productive conversations requires additional preparation and the courage to experience the unknown. Any questions?

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