AMA
Playbook

Use “Creativity Questions” To Brainstorm And Challenge The Status Quo

February 21, 2017

Creativity questions

Creativity questions invite us to pull out the paintbrush, throw away the coloring book and think differently. They prompt our imaginations. They ask us to get out of the way, break rules of convention, and exceed the bounds of the possible. They encourage us to rally to greatness or peer into the future, to see a new world. They invite us to daydream.

What would it be like to ride around like a millionaire?

What a great question. It asks us to envision wealth and comfort replacing the common chore of getting from one place to another. It prods us to imagine how special we’d feel if a deferential driver did the navigating and if convenience replaced stress. No wasted time finding a parking space or hailing a cab. No digging through your pockets for money. You stretch out in the back seat, comfortable and relaxed, managing the empire.

It is the question that animated a couple of techie dreamers in a late-night brainstorming session. Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp were “jamming on ideas, rapping on what’s next.” Camp came up with a Big Idea: a solution to the horrible taxi service in San Francisco. Camp was stuck on creating a car service that was so efficient people would feel like they were riding like millionaires. In the summer of 2010, the pair launched a tiny company. They called it Uber.

Within four years, Uber reported that riders were taking more than one million trips a day in more than 50 countries. Five years after it started, the company was valued at as much as $50 billion. It inspired the “sharing economy,” as companies like Airbnb, Snapgoods, and TaskRabbit remade the way people travel, work, buy, and do business around the world. So now we know. If people are given an opportunity to ride around like a millionaire, they’ll do it, millions of times over.

Questions that drive creative thinking are out-there questions. They are big and bold. They ask people to transport themselves to a different time and place and state of mind. They open the door to aspiration and disruption. They challenge the status quo. They reframe issues around visionary, maybe even revolutionary, ideas.

You find inspiration in these fun questions because they invite fresh and original thinking. But you may also feel uneasy when they challenge conventional wisdom and the world you know. This line of questioning can help you hatch ambitious new ideas and bring people along for the ride to collaborate and create alongside you. Creativity questions ask you to pretend as they connect you to an imagined reality, where horizons are brighter and where limitations are lifted.

That’s what it’s like to ride around like a millionaire.

Creativity questions may not hand you the next $50 billion business, but they will help you put together the best brainstorming session you’ve ever imagined.

What’s the magic wand idea?
We’ve arrived. What are we doing?
There are no obstacles. Now what?

Creative questioning welcomes crazy ideas, shrugs off the obvious, and seeks alternatives. Creative questioning asks fellow travelers to:

Set sights unreasonably high. Ask more of yourself and others without being limited by the laws of gravity. There will be plenty of time to come back to earth later. If you don’t aim high, you will never go into orbit.

Try a little time travel. Creative thinking is all about the future, so go there. Put your questions in the future tense and ask people to transport themselves there with you.

Invoke imagined reality. Role-play. You’re living in that new world, workplace, or community. What’s it like? Look up, down, 360 degrees around. What do you see? What do you think? What’s next?

Embrace disruption. Questions that drive creativity involve disruptive thinking that can be unsettling, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright subversive. That’s how we change the world.

Adapted, with permission of the publisher, from Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change by Frank Sesno. Copyright 2017, Frank Sesno. Published by AMACOM.

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Through AMA’s on-demand course, you can learn how to create a framework that encourages ideas from team members—the people in contact with clients, suppliers, and partners.
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About The Author

Frank Sesno is an award-winning American journalist and former CNN correspondent, anchor, and Washington bureau chief. He is director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University.

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