How do you use questions to stimulate the creative process? I have a number of my coaching clients who have been working on how to be creative in solving issues within their business. The issues range from how can I grow my business? Or, how do I build a better relationship with my difficult MD/boss? Also, as a business owner, I’ve spent time visioning the future, creating new products and programmes and this leads me to be intrigued about the power of creative questions [see my previous post – Why you should ask more questions] to spark problem-solving. Questions are free and available to us all no matter the size of our role or business so let’s explore some of the popular questioning frameworks people use to find creative solutions:

  • 4 Stages: Nearly a century ago, the British psychologist Graham Wallas proposed a four-stage process of creativity. In his 1926 book The Art of Thought, Wallas observed that creative solutions appear sequentially:

Preparation => Incubation => Illumination => Implementation

This creative process is still used today in many research and innovation companies.

  • 5 Whys: The “five whys” methodology originated in Japan with Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries. Asking “why” five times in succession is a means of discovering the root of a particular manufacturing problem. But this can be applied to many areas, including behaviours. People are inclined to look for the easiest, most obvious explanation for a problem, so asking “why” five times leads to a greater depth of understanding and understanding a problem fully.
  • Contextual Inquiry: When you ask questions up close and in context, using observation, listening, and empathy, you are likely to get a better understanding of user experiences. This means getting out of the office and spending time with customers to find out what they really care about.
  • Connective Inquiry: One of the ways to find new ideas is to connect existing ideas in unusual ways. This is also known as “combinatorial thinking.” One successful example was when Frederick Rueckheim observed the popularity of candy, peanuts and popcorn and created Cracker Jacks, adding a small prize to each box in 1913.
  • Collaborative Inquiry: It’s never been easier than in today’s interconnected world to ask for help with ideas and creative solutions. Many of the most recent start-ups are using this access to a diverse world to achieve speed, flexibility and ingenuity that would never have been possible even ten years ago.
  • Ask WhyWhat If and HowThe ability to ask “why” has sparked innumerable inventions. Author Warren Berger writes about this in A More Beautiful Question, a fascinating book illuminating the power of questions that lead to innovations. He outlines a framework of three sequential questions to spark the creative process:

Why? => What if…? => How might we…?

Have you used any of these frameworks for stimulating your own creative processes? I’d love to hear about your ideas and the questions you use. If you use others that I have not listed then please share.