Creative Questions to Power Your Innovation Workshops - The Big Bang Partnership

Creative Questions to Power Your Innovation Workshops

Question Marks

The Creative Power of Questions

Do you ever wonder how creative geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Einstein cultivated their innovative ideas?

A critical aspect of their creative process involved asking questions – good questions, great questions, and even those seemingly ‘wrong’ questions that led them in an entirely different direction. This article delves into the art of questioning and how it can power your innovation sprints, design thinking and creative problem solving workshops. They enrich the creative insight and critical thinking of business leaders and workshop participants alike.

Workshop participants in a meeting room discussing questions

Creative Questions Positively Disrupt

The right question, when posed at the opportune moment, can disrupt the status quo and generate innovative ideas. It can lead to better solutions, provoke new ways of thinking, and foster lively discussions.

Dan Rothstein of the Right Question Institute even suggests that “asking questions is a fundamental skill that can stimulate innovation.” Rothstein’s statement echoes the sentiment of a quote attributed to Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the question to ask.”

Hal Gregersen, executive director of MIT Leadership Center, concurs. In a Fast Company article, he suggested that great leaders, like business innovators and disruptors, spend time formulating ‘catalytic questions’ that can illuminate a path towards disruptive innovations.

We Can All Become Better Questioners

The art of questioning is a skill that we can cultivate to do a better job in our personal lives and our roles as facilititors. Warren Berger, an innovation specialist and author, wrote a thought-provoking book, “A More Beautiful Question“, where he explores the power of inquiry in shaping our personal and professional lives. He suggests the good news is that we can all become better questioners and in turn, generate better answers.

So, what type of questions should you ask? In the same book, Berger outlines different kinds of questions, from simple questions that probe the fundamentals, to more complex, open-ended questions that seek to uncover root causes. He categorizes questions into “why,” “what if,” and “how” types, each leading to different types of creative ideas.

Woman thinking about different questions

Creative Questions Provoke a Change in Perspective

A creative individual can ask new questions that provoke a change in perspective, opening up the floor for different questions that may not have been considered before. For instance, instead of asking, “How can we do this better?” we might ask, “What if we did this in a completely new way?” This shift can trigger creative blocks to crumble, paving the way for the generation of great ideas.

Ask Questions That Poke Holes in Everyday Realities

The most potent questions, according to Gregersen, are those that challenge assumptions. He encourages us to ask questions that ‘poke holes’ in everyday realities, pushing beyond much information readily available. It’s a simple question like “Why?” or “Why not?” that can often spark the most creative work.

Warren Berger stresses the value of asking provocative questions and follow-up questions. Berger insists that the real challenge is to ask the question that will disrupt complacency and lead to better understanding. He asserts that in any particular context, asking the right questions, such as “What could we do differently next time?” or “What did we learn from the last time?”, can steer a discussion towards fresh insights and new features for a product or strategy.

There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Question

One of the best ways to foster this questioning mindset is to create an environment where no question is a ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ question. The ‘right’ or ‘correct’ answer is not always the end goal of the inquiry. Instead, the aim is to explore different perspectives, think in novel ways, and perhaps, as Gregersen suggests, find a “more beautiful question”.

Creative Questions Drive Engagement

Asking great questions is also a great way to influence engagement in your innovation workshops. It encourages participants to pose their own questions and deepen their learning skills. A series of questions can lead to more in-depth discussions, helping everyone involved to see things from a fresh perspective.

In the end, creative questions are not just about generating new ideas. They are also about challenging assumptions, improving the quality of life, and making sense of our world in new ways. As Berger notes in a New York Times interview, a profound book or a great strategy often starts with a question mark.

Innovation expert Berger suggests that the creative process should allow for ‘enough questions’. A good questioner knows that questioning is not about seeking a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer but about exploring possibilities, experimenting, and welcoming different directions.

Team working on creative questions in a meeting room

Questions in Life as Well as Work

Embracing questions in our daily lives – be it at home with family members or in our personal experience in the workplace – is a step towards cultivating a creative mind. As creative workshop facilitators, our role is to nurture this state of mind, creating an environment that encourages positive thinking and creative exploration.

In the spirit of great leaders and creative people like da Vinci and Einstein, let’s not just seek the right answer, but foster an environment where we can ask the right questions. For it’s often the question that leads to the path of innovation. Let’s use the power of questions to do our best work, generate our best ideas, and shape our workshops to be crucibles of creativity and innovation.

My Favorite Creative Questions for Innovation Workshops

There are lots of questions that I really love. I even have a top five favorites list (yes, I really do!). Here they are:
1. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if…?
2. How might we / I…?
3. What’s stopping us / me?
4. What if we / I…?
5. What next?

These questions are brilliant for creative thinking and problem-solving because they:

• Are all positive, and influence our ‘can do’ approach.

• Assume that things are possible.

• Leave wriggle room and scope for the answer to be less than perfect.

• Give you a quick and easy mini-process for creative problem-solving, when you combine them.

• Work whether you do them alone, or in a group.

Here’s how you could use them to get some insights and possibly breakthrough thinking in a 45 minute individual or team session.

1. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if…? (10 minutes)

This is an almost infallible question to ask yourself or your team at the beginning of a problem-solving or new project launch meeting because it helps to articulate a clear vision and goals from the outset.

Spend just a few minutes completing the Wouldn’t it be fantastic if… statement as many times as you can (either individually or in a group) with real items relating to your work context. Make sure you write ALL your thoughts down. Spend about 10-15 minutes on the activity and see if you can think of at least 5-10 Wouldn’t it be fantastic if…items.

Then, take a step back and review what you have written. Think about your answers in the round. What does the combination of statements say to you? Which ones stand out more than others? Write a few notes to capture your thoughts.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic doubled our revenue by 2025?

2. How might we…? (10 minutes)

Building on the activity you did in step 1, now begin to explore how you can make your goals a reality by mind mapping your responses to the question How can we achieve this?, perhaps adjusting the words to match the vision that you’ve created.

How might we …

  • increase our online visits?
  • incentivise customers to add an extra item to their baskets?
  • get customers to recommend us to their friends and family?

3. What’s stopping us? (5 minutes)

Grab a different colour pen or post-its if you have them, and go round the key items on your mind map, adding in your thoughts on anything that you think could get in the way. Identify the most likely and significant items.

We don’t have much time with all the other projects that we have going on.
Budget is limited.

4. What if…? (10 minutes)

For the most likely and significant items that you think could stop you, think about some solutions, asking yourself What if..? It is important to avoid premature evaluation as you do this, just go with the flow and roll with your thoughts, writing them all down.


What if we…

… employed a graduate intern to help?
… explored grants and funding for innovation development?
… stopped doing some other marketing activities and redirected the money to the website?

5. What next? (10 minutes)

Now re-read all your outputs from steps 1-4, and make think about what insights and thoughts they give you as a whole. Then, quite simply, ask yourself “What next?”. Make a note of the most important actions you can take straightaway to move yourself towards the vision you have created, even if these are only small steps.

Hope you give this a go. If you have any questions, please just get in touch and I will be happy to help and answer them. I’d love to hear how you get on.

More Free Resources

Make sure that you check out and download my free resources for facilitators and innovators here. You’ll find heaps of tips, resources and bitesized facilitation toolkits. I hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think!