Change Your Questions, Change the World

by Janet Sernack

In our work at ImagineNation, we have created a new role for managers and leaders who want to be innovative. This is the disruptive provocateur,  someone who courageously questions everything; they use disruptive thought provoking and bold questions to challenge the status quo, often with an uncommon intensity and with great frequency.

So what is a disruptive question and why are they one of the most critical levers for creating the safe space for innovation?

A disruptive question is an invitation to be curious and to think differently about a person, situation, challenge or problem.

Disruptive questions cultivate insights about ‘what currently is’ and ‘what could or might be’. Crafting the ‘right’ disruptive questions enables people to better understand business problems, get to the core. To re-frame the problem into a generative or higher level systemic challenge for breakthrough innovation. Disruptive questions are key creative catalysts that allow and provocate and emerge possibilities for innovative ideas and solutions.

The Generative Inquiry Cycle

  1. Elicit a description of the territory.
  2. Identify the causes of the current reality occurring in the territory.
  3. Elicit creative ideas.

Step One  Elicit a description of the territory;

Most of us are aware that the ‘map is not the territory’ it is only a picture or a representation of the actual territory. This requires us to listen deeply to reveal ‘what is’ and to connect with people to build empathy with how it feels to be located in that kind of territory.

–      Asking ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ questions;

–      What is the real problem?

–      What are you trying to achieve?

–      What does this problem/that really mean to you?

–      How are you feeling about it?

–      How does this impact on your customer?

–      How does this impact on your people?

–      Who else is involved?

Step Two  Identify  the causes of the current reality occurring in the territory or social field of attention;

To really know the territory, we have to immerse ourselves in it; by generating a deep understanding of the current situation or business problem; how it impacts on the business as well as on current and potential customers. This enables us to evolve a hypothetical disruptive solution, to then prototype, test and verify for innovation. Asking causal questions helps get to the core of the business problem, and it requires continuing shifting across listening to the facts and the data as well as empathically.

–      Ask causal questions;

–      What do you think might have caused that issue?

–      How does that issue relate or link to the core problem?

–      How do you frame this problem?

–      How is that important to you?

–      What else might be at play around your core problem?

–      How does it feel to be in this situation?

–      What is it that makes you feel this way?

–      What are some of the possibilities in this situation?

–      How do you want to see this turn out?

Step Three   Disrupt the territory;

To help formulate a hypothetical disruptive solution for the problem at hand, it is important to make the shift from specific and descriptive questions to generating disruptive ones to;

–      Create collisions between peoples internal programming, perspectives and thought patterns,

–      Initiate mindset shifts,

–      Create cracks and openings,

–      Elicit possibilities for solutions.

Asking intentionally disruptive questions requires us to deeply generatively listen, to create the safe space and an empathic relationship if you don’t want to come across as aggressive, or oppositional.  If you are doing this effectively, people will start to unconsciously move into a safe and constructive generative debate that will ultimately result in a right hand turn, or series of breakthrough ideas.

–      Asking deeper ‘what’ and more ‘why’ and ‘why not’ questions;

–      What do you really believe about that?

–      What is your purpose in this?

–      What are you expecting?

–      What would be the simplest way to solve the problem?

–      What could be possible?

–      Why do we do it that way?

–      Why is it so important to you to solve this problem?

–      Why not think differently about that?

–      Why can’t it be done differently?

–      Why aren’t more people involved?

–      Why aren’t our customers happy with that solution?

–      What if you were to think differently about that?

Step Four  Elicit creative ideas through generative debate;

This step continues to explore the ‘what could be’ space, and generates a deeper constructive debate, that draws on potentiality and elicits unexpected possibilities awaiting us in the social field of attention.

–      Asking ‘what if’ and ‘how might’ questions;

–      What if we were to think differently about that?

–      What if we could re-frame the problem into an opportunity?

–      What if that didn’t work?

–      What if that did work?

–      What if we do the opposite to that?

–      What if we saw that constraint as an opportunity?

–      What if this product could be available to everyone?

–      How might we think differently about that?

–      How might we introduce…?

–      How might we explore that idea more deeply?

Being able to deeply question and listen are not only symbiotic, when we master this vital skill set; we demonstrate generosity, respect and appreciation for one another which makes collaboration and co-creation an effortless and easy experience.

“Changing our questions can change the world. The key is constantly creating better questions to see that world with fresh eyes. When this happens, we will find ourselves living the profound observation that Jonas Salk (discoverer of the first polio vaccine) made that “you don’t invent the answers; you reveal the answers” by “finding the right question.”

It also creates an opportunity for effecting daily listening and questioning practices that make innovation everyone’s job, everyday by;

–      Rocking the boat and exposing the elephants and sacred cows.

–      Disrupting the status quo and generate ‘out of the box’ thinking.

–      Stimulating, activating and generating new perspectives and thought patterns.

–      Colliding peoples ‘necessity’ and ‘possibility’ meta programming.

–      Achieving high levels or meta thinking to generate imaginative and creative ideas and unexpected solutions in the everyday business world.

The generative inquiry cycle was adapted from ‘The Innovators DNA’ by Clayton Christensen.

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  • How the Lean Start-up Accelerates Innovation Janet Sernack gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from 30 years experience in manufacturing, retailing and learning and development businesses to Australia’s and Israel’s’ top 100 companies. She resides in Israel where she founded a start-up, ImagineNation™ that teaches innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship via The Start-Up Game™.

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