You Need to Have a Great Question!

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I heard Tammy Erickson speak yesterday on employee engagement, innovation and collaboration. “People rarely innovate because you tell them to innovate,” she said. Rather, you need to have a great question. That is the leader’s job.”

Week before last I presented a workshop in Portugal on the Politics of Creativity at the International Congress of Creativity and Innovation 2008, Portuguese-Spanish Environment
Feedback indicated that the “question game” I invited participants to play mid-way through the workshop was a highlight for them. The thing is, I had not planned to do that. It was more or less a spontaneous decision to make the three hour workshop more interactive. Ironically, now that I think about it, I have attended many many lectures, presentations, and workshops on creativity and innovation that invite little or no inquiry from the participants.

On this first post-election day in the U.S. I am eager and curious to watch whether or how President-elect Obama poses powerful questions for us, as opposed to providing quick answers for some difficult, deep issues we face as a nation.

Thanks, Tammy, for verifying once again, the power of questions!

  • Mark Solien

    Aloha Steve,

    Your latest article is “spot on”. So many times people rush to focus on answers. Good answers are quite appropriate when dealing with simple systems where cause and effect are not only proportional, but relatively clear. Great questions, however, are much more important in dealing with complex systems, where there are numerous interdependencies and cause and effect relationships are not at all clear. Great questions stimulate thinking to define a problem or challenge at a large and broad enough scale to reveal the underlying complexity and paradox. There is often great opportunity in paradox! Once that is done in a group that is diverse in their thinking and experience, the door is wide open to powerful new insights and innovation. In my experience in the applied science community, people too often yearn for answers, when they would be much better served with a great question to ponder.

    All the very best,

    Mark Solien