How do you generate ideas? Why?
In all my books about creativity I highlight asking questions as one of the top techniques to generate ideas. When we are children there is some age when we ask a lot of "why" and adults can get tired of it. However, this is one the most powerful ways to understand, to check understanding, to attach meanings and values to our ideas.
When dealing with problems, it is a very useful technique to ask "Why?" several times to find out the root of the problem and to see the excuses that we make. Why we did not achieved the goal? Because John did not do his task. Why John did not do his task? Because he felt that it was too risky? Why he felt his task was too risky? Because...
At the same time we could ask "How?", like "How could this have been prevented or avoided?
I love to ask "How?" as it is a wonderful question to make people think, to facilitate ideas. Maybe somebody is asking you for a very important and abstract "How to...?" and then you return the question to him making it more specific, easier to answer.
When we are thinking about solving a problem we can think about different approaches, just by asking different type of "how". Imagine that you are not happy with your business profit. Then you could ask: How to increment the profit? How to reduce costs? How to increase sales? How to increase the number of customers? How to make our customers to buy different products that we provide? How to increase the selling price of our products, what extras can be added? And each question can suggest different ideas to increment your profit.
When you have made a plan to make improvements but these improvements have not been achieved as you were expected, you can think about the different steps you planned to do and there could be some step that it seemed difficult and you could break it down into other easier sub-steps by asking "how".
I love "How to" books as they are books with practical information, tips, etc. However, for these type of books to be more useful to individuals I find that the question readers need to do when using these suggestions is not only "How to..." but "How can I...?". This means that the information we obtain in these books or in the internet can be prioritised, adapted to our own circumstances and skills.
By the way some interesting quotations or proverbs related to this:
"If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail"
"Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding". Abraham Kaplan
"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail". Abraham Maslow
In a "blaim culture" usually when something goes wrong, always the first question is "Who is responsible?" Instead of asking "Why this happened?" or "How could have been avoided?" or "How can we solve it?"
When doing reflective practice, analysing our working practice to improve it, we can ask "How we did it today?", "How could we have done it different (better)?".
When helping people to learn, we can help then to attach more meanings to what they are learning by asking them "Why is this important?", "How could yo apply it in your circumstances?"
To solve a problem on many occasions is to look for the right question. "A problem well stated is a problem half solved" Charles Kettering
There can be many "but..." and then you have to adjust the question "How can I do this even though...?"
When we think about brainstorming, there is a powerful combination when doing a brainstorming of questions starting with "Why" or "How".
When thinking about choosing ideas, we can think about other options that are not our favourites to challenge the way we think: Why not? or asking "How this option could be the best one?" and think about different circumstances or situations when other options could be more useful.
When thinking about a solution for a problem, we can think about how that solution can be helpful for other problems.
When being criticised always is good to ask "Why the person is saying that?" you can ask it to yourself to see if it is true or partially true so you know what to improve or you could ask the other person why he/she said it, and if the answer is moody or evasive, you could think that the reason why he/she criticised you was not a genuine one, but for personal reasons.
Why? is a very good question to analyse our thoughts, our assumptions, our hypothesis. Why we think what we think? Why we believe what we believe? How else could we think if we could do some experiments to proof it different? How can we change our thoughts, our ideas?
To finish this post, enjoy this video from Simon Sinek about "start with why". A powerful model for how leaders inspire action.