I love crime dramas, especially ones where the protagonist appears to have a psychological edge over everyone else, such as The Mentalist, Sherlock and Luther.
The way they look at the crime scene from a different perspective and as a result get new insights into the case that ultimately leads them to the villain.
The majority of times what leads the protagonist to get fresh insight is the quality of questions they ask. When I coach my clients, I do so with the understanding that the questions I ask influences the direction of their thinking.
For example, if I ask you “What will ‘X’ get you?” you will tend to think about specific things (more money, less stress, more time). However if I ask you “What will that do for you?” you are more likely to come up with more value based abstract answers (freedom, contentment, acceptance).
The brain is goal seeking
Questions can lead you to more creative insight due to directing your thinking in a way that requires an answer. Your brain is a goal seeking mechanism, so if you ask it a question you prompt it to find an answer. These questions can provide a way of looking at a problem that provides solutions you hadn’t thought about before.
Learning from Google’s secret lab
One area questions are fantastic for is innovation. Early this year it was revealed Google has a secret lab where scientists and engineers live out their dreams! They work on 100 projects at a time with the main aim of designing the future. Some of the projects that have seen the light of day are Google Glass and driverless cars.
In designing innovations that don’t currently exist, the engineers typically start with the question “What if?” (“What if a car could be driven without the need for a human to be inside the car? How would that work?”). This opens up the mind to explore, to open up your imagination to what could exist if ‘x’ was true.
Why don’t people ask questions?
Despite the benefits that questions hold for the creative individual, they are still rarely used. A recent article in Fast Company raised a number of good points into why we may be reluctant to ask questions. The main factor raised came from Richard Saul Wurman, creator of the original TED conference. Pointing towards education, Mr Wurman noted that in school we are praised for having good answers, but rarely are we praised for asking good questions.
To optimise creativity, elicit what the mainstream don’t do and if useful, build it into your toolbox. Questions are certainly tools that will radically enhance your results.
How to ask creative questions
Below is a ‘starter kit’ for including questions regularly in your daily life. Use them and you will find new insights arising and problems disappearing!
If you have a problem, state it as a question.
When a problem surfaces, it is very easy to stay within a problem state. Constantly looking at the problem doesn’t necessarily provide a solution. By turning the problem into a question, you are directing your thinking towards finding a solution.
An example of this would be “I need more clients”. This is the problem, but to start generating a solution you need to ask questions to direct your thinking. An example would be: “Who do I know that could introduce me to potential new clients?”
Boost your creativity with the question “What is another way of looking at this”?
There is a cognitive bias called confirmation bias that filters for information that coincides with our current belief system. This ensures we have a consistent perception of reality, but can also stunt our creativity by filtering out information that could allow us to take multiple perspectives on the same issue.
By asking “What is another way of looking at this?” you avoid falling into this trap and come up with new and innovative ideas.
Beware of ‘Why’ questions
‘Why’ elicits a story, explanations of why something is true. If you ask why nothing is working out the way you want it to, you are likely to create a story, which may or may not be true. This is dangerous territory in making you feel bad.
However don’t discount ‘why’ questions completely. They can open up an inquisitive nature needed for exploration;
“Why does this work so well?”
“Why is he so successful at what he does?”
“Why does this have to go in that order?”
All of these start up a dialogue in your mind that can lead to new insights and discoveries.
Questions create a whole world of new discoveries and creative insights. They are like fuel for your brain and used regularly will skyrocket your success wherever you direct your focus.
Over to you
What question do YOU regularly ask yourself that frequently leads to creative insight?
About the author: Aaron Morton is the creator of The Confidence Lounge, a platform where you can discover how to turn your ideas into reality. Aaron works with individuals who want to earn a side income using the skills and talents they already have or have the confidence to leave their job and go solo. Go to www.theconfidencelounge.com for a more articles and a free ‘Making the mindset’ manifesto.
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