Questioning Along the Road to Innovation

Posted by & filed under Nanci's Notions Blog.

APLSGroup-Power-whyAfter reading Warren Berger’s article entitled The Power of ‘Why?’ and ‘What If?’ in the New York Times recently (July 3, 2016), I began to think about how businesses could benefit by creating a culture that encourages asking questions:

  • End top-down thinking
  • Stir the imagination of all employees to be innovative
  • Discuss openly whether a business strategy is productive or in need of a facelift
  • Move the business forward
  • Encourage thinking over routine delivery of service.

Innovative companies like Apple, Google, Starbucks and Toyota are known for welcoming their employees to question the status quo in order to move beyond conventional thinking. These are the companies that anticipate what the consumer wants before the consumer asks for the product. They often create the demand that originates with two words: What If?

As many organizations look forward to ways of ending the fiscal year with a bang, the simple step of urging employees to ask questions, without recrimination, is being overlooked. In our society, after about the age of five we are generally discouraged from asking too many questions. Answers are rewarded and questions are spurned. No one wants to be labeled as annoying, stupid or combative. If senior management runs a meeting, protocol suggests they present ideas that are implemented by others. Staff or team members in the meeting are listeners, not talkers, and definitely not questioning participants. This pervasive culture does not lend itself to innovative thinking that produces thriving bottom lines.

The Right Question Institute, a nonprofit research group proposes the tide is changing. What we don’t know is as valuable an information source for innovative thinking as what we do know. Learning to formulate questions is an important skill set that can be used to initiate change. Companies like Netflix, Square and Airbnb illustrate the power of creating a business strategy based on situations that were questioned by individuals; solutions were then developed to address them.

When I delved further into the benefits of a questioning culture, I found several interesting books on the subject. If you are curious about the value of questioning, take a look at the following titles:

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. According to Berger, “A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”

Curious? by Todd Kashdan, PH.D. who writes that “Curiosity is recognizing novelty and seizing the pleasures and meaning that they offer us.”

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar H. Schein suggests that inquiry generates bold ideas.

The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, Clayton M. Christensen discover questioning is key to innovation.

Today business leaders are looking for new models of operating successful enterprises.  Sometimes a simple overlooked strategy can come to the rescue at minimal or no cost. The value of questioning harkens back to some old, sage advice.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Albert Einstein

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

Henry Ford