Why You Need to Ask More Creative Questions

Man looking over city with question marks raining from skyI 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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  1. Artful links | August 20, 2013


  1. This is a great post and topic since I have been on a journey to increase my creativity. One great resource I found on this topic: The book “Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management” by Mark Forster talks specifically on how to be more creative.

    In there he makes an important point that the more specific the question is the more creative the answer will be that emerges. For example if I ask myself “How can I create an animal allegory painting with a fox?” I might get some vague ideas or still be stumped. If I ask instead, “What sort of allegorical painting can I create that includes a fox, some antique keys and ruined ancient architecture?” my mind immediately churns out several ideas. Mark Forster calls this a creative paradox – if we narrow our questions some then we will actually generate more creative ideas.

    This is all to say that how you ask the question is also important!


    • Thanks Marque,

      Sounds like some great advice coming from the book. Questions are so important and by finding resources like you have pointed out can only mean good things for your creativity and what you ultimately create in your life and business.

      Thanks for commenting!


  2. I wish I would ask myself far more often, “If someone disagreed with me about this, how could they be right?”

    Lack of dissenting voices makes an echo chamber inevitable. I work at home with my Best Beloved, and she usually takes her business cues from me. More dissent will keep me honest. Or at least, call me out when I’m not.

    • Yes a great question to ask like yours is:

      “What would have to be true in order for what they are saying to be the RIGHT thing to say”

      It forces you to see the world from their perspective and can provide some awesome responses and insights.

      Thanks for your input Joel!


  3. Warwick Absolon says:

    What would perfect look like from the end-user’s point of view? We are usually so caught up with what the client wants that the end-user is overlooked.

    • As a consultant (it sounds like you are a consultant) this is where you show your value; asking the questions that the client may have overlooked.

      Thanks for your comment


  4. Hi Aaron the insight you share here is so true. I also believe that the quality of life is determined upon the quality of questions we ask ourselves. From a creative point of view I find that mind mapping is also useful for uncovering answers that are held within the subconscious mind. Xmind is a brilliant free tool for mindmapping. Whenever I get stuck I start a mindmap to create questions that start shifting my mind and ideas in new directions. It’s also healthy to always review our intentions everyday. Because what we focus upon is what we create. In the end creativity is about being flexible with life and the more allowance and practice we give to ourselves (through the quality of questions we ask) the more empowering and free flowing life becomes. Nice one Aaron.

  5. Thanks for the mention of my Fast Company article, Aaron. I’m a huge fan of the creative power of questions and have been hosting a blog on the topic called A More Beautiful Question (http://amorebeautifulquestion.com) for the past few years. My book of the same title, about the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas and how to get better at questioning, is coming out from Bloomsbury in winter 2014. Would love to have you and your readers visit the blog and join in the conversation there, too.

    • Hi Warren,

      No problem, it was a great article. I have just been on your blog, it poses some fantastic questions that we can all learn from. Exciting news about your book, I look forward to reading it Warren!

      The Confidence Lounge

  6. Well written, Aaron.

    “The brain is goal seeking” – not only does it try and fit pieces together to get an answer, but when the brain does this subconsciously (like when you sleep), it does so without biases to bizarre, far-fetched, and irrelevant connections. You are likely to have a eureka or aha moment by utilizing the subconscious because your confirmation bias “alarms” are lowered.

    Thanks for a great article.

    • Hi Christopher,

      Thanks for commenting. You are correct the brain is goal seeking in the sense that one of its functions is to filter all the stimuli in order to make sense of the world.

      When the brain fits pieces together as you describe it is ALL done ‘subconsciously’. What you are aware of is your narrative of what comes through. Meaning, self talk, thinking are all ‘conscious interpretations of what is going on outside of our awareness (our unconscious or subconscious depending on whats popular at the moment).

      You essentially have no choice on whether your ‘subconscious’ is utilised or not, it is always utilised because it is a fundamental part of your brain function. Confirmation bias is a ‘subconscious’ heuristic, so is more the case of utilising your frontal cortex in a way that allows you to be aware of when you are experiencing confirmation bias (very hard) AND/OR being well practiced in exercises like divergent thinking where you become use to far out ideas that are accepted without criticism so they see the light of day!

      Thanks for the comments Christopher, appreciate it

      The Confidence Lounge

  7. I like cycling through the 5W’s and H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and how) formula to come up with questions. I think that the more questions you ask, the more answers you get, the more creative you will be.

    • Yes absolutely Walter and also setting up what insights can come later. When we focus on other things in the day, outside our awareness answers are being generated that come into our awareness in the form of insight.

      Great questions = Great Insights