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Use Better Questions Like These for Innovation Thinking

Use Better Questions Like These for Innovation Thinking

Innovation thinkingAccelerating change means adapt and innovate or become irrelevant. Without innovation thinking and a willingness to try new things, you won’t survive.

Innovation requires big and bold new ways of thinking, trial and error and the potential for mistakes.

People hate making mistakes.


Every time I trot out my permission to be wrong coupons in workshops, they trigger a nervous laugh. At the root of peoples’ discomfort? Cynicism, judgement and fear of being wrong are powerful limiting forces that stymie innovation thinking. (It’s hard to think innovatively if you are afraid of being judged or wrong.)

Innovative vs Focused Thinking

Process improvement, efficiency and scale require focused analytical thinking.  It’s about perfecting known systems. You narrow a lens to focus. Strategic planning, project management, etc., are examples of high demand disciplines used for efficiency and process improvement.

What about innovative thinking? It’s a different skill set. You open your mind’s lens for a much bigger picture that includes items that initially appear unrelated. Creative and innovative thinking happens when disparate pieces of information come together in new ways.

Discovery Questions Stimulate Innovation Thinking

Questions can interrupt status quo thinking.

So, what do you notice about the questions you ask? Are they mainly process improvement questions? Are you also asking discovery oriented questions? Discovery questions point people to look outward for what they notice and observe. They are open ended questions without a “right” answer. Here are some examples.

You can look to nature for metaphorical inspiration. Ask, “How does nature handle a similar challenge?” “What conditions would have to be present to replicate a similar outcome for us?”

Open the door to new solutions by asking, “What can we learn by trying something different?” “What’s one small step we can take that moves us in that direction?” I like these questions because they imply that learning in and of itself has value. Inviting new learning unattached to process perfection is a gift that keeps on giving.

Here is another sequence for looking outward: “Who else outside of our industry has faced something similar?” “Can we visit them for lessons learned?” Field trips that place you in unfamiliar environments free you from negative assumptions when you see a version of new potential that’s already operational.

Innovation thinking requires attention and focus like any other strategic activity.

  • Reflect on the questions you ask.
  • Sideline cynicism, judgement and the fear of being wrong with questions that show you value learning.
  • Use questions that direct attention outward for fresh perspectives.
  • Set aside time to notice what questions others are asking.

Then, one last thing. Ask yourself, “Am I open to discovery?”


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