Types of Creativity Questions
Creativity questions encourage people to think about things that go beyond the familiar. They encourage originality and risk-taking. They ask people to consider new ideas and imagine new scenarios. They put us in the future tense. They push boundaries. Creativity questions ask people to imagine ambitiously and think independently.
The Dream: What would you change? What if there were no limits? What is your dream? These are opening questions that grant license and unleash the imagination. You are asking people to put convention to the side, to set their sights high and try something new or experiment. These questions inspire people to think big, over the horizon to imagine new approaches, new definitions. They are the questions that frame the challenge, set the bar, and loosen the rules.
The Frame: What’s the next Big Thing? How can we eliminate poverty? What will it take to beat cancer? What’s the unexpected twist in the story? Frame your question to inspire and to invoke the future. Ask people to imagine a different and better place. Make the questions inspirational, to shift our gaze from the weeds to the sky.
Role-Playing: What if you were CEO? What would you do? What if you were the director making the movie? What would Jeff Bezos think about this situation? Ask your collaborators to try on another pair of shoes—the shoes of the decision maker. Ask them to assume responsibility. Your question puts them in another place. Now they are invested, thinking in a different context and imagining at another level.
Your Sunglasses: When should you take them off? You can direct the action and tell people precisely when to take off their sunglasses or you can ask people to invest themselves in the decision and think about what they are doing, why and to what effect? Invite them to be part of the creative process instead of just handing them a script. These questions challenge people to take ownership of the script and the creative process.
Time Travel: You succeeded. You’re in the future. What are you doing? What’s it like? What do you see? Skip past the particulars, the details, and the distractions. Forget the fear and the can’t-do white noise. Pretend money doesn’t exist. Ask people to boldly go where no one has gone before: the future. Ask them to look around and try it on. Then look in the rearview mirror to see how you got there and what it took.
The Superhero: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? That’s Gavin Newsom’s question. Ask it to help people embrace risk and understand that fear of failure should not stand in the way of brainstorming, big ideas, and worthy goals.
How businesses use creativity questions in brainstorming sessions
Creativity questions have an almost magical capacity to transport people to a different time, place, or perspective. They help us get to that imagined reality.
Asking people to play a role and answer a series of questions or a challenge catalyzes creative thought and innovation.
The consulting firm McKinsey & Company examined the best ways that businesses could use insights from neuroscience to unleash creativity and innovative ideas in their employees. McKinsey cited the work of neuroscientist Gregory Berns from Emory University, who found that creativity requires “bombarding” our brains with things that are new, unfamiliar, and different.
The McKinsey authors stated, “only by forcing our brains to recategorize information and move beyond our habitual thinking patterns can we begin to imagine truly novel alternatives.”
They provided some sample questions that businesses could use in a brainstorming session, asking what the best in the business would do in their shoes, drawing comparisons that most closely applied to their own challenges.
After all, creativity questions should be aspirational.
- How would Google manage our data?
- How might Disney engage with our consumers?
- How could Southwest Airlines cut our costs?
- How would Zara redesign our supply chain?
Pushing people out of their “habitual thinking patterns” is an exercise anyone can do.
Imagine that your daughter just won a full-freight scholarship to any school in the world.
- Where would she go?
- What would she study?
- What opportunities would she have?
Or imagine you were named CEO of your company.
- What would be the first things you would do to improve morale and performance?
Role-playing puts people in an imaginary place and asks them to play their part. The exercise works because, often without realizing it, players combine imagination with intellect and get into the game. They think in a hypothetical space and craft their responses to keep up with a storyline they cannot control or predict.
Your Brainstorming Sessions Will Benefit from Better Questions
We learn, connect, observe, and invent through the questions we ask. We push boundaries and we discover secrets. We solve mysteries and we imagine new ways of doing things. We ponder our purpose and we set our sights. We hold people accountable. We live generously, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, by asking not what others can do for us, but what we can do for them. Curiosity opens our minds and captivates our imaginations.