Some descriptionTunde Awe,  Vice Chair, CIM South West Regional Board, considers if asking the right questions could lead to novel and transformative insights. 

Spring is upon us and we’re approaching that time of the year again when we plan the process and activities that feed into the annual business and marketing plans.  Often, and for many of us, preparing for these plans involve several field visits to B2C consumers (or B2B customers as the case may be) and many cross functional brainstorming meetings to unearth insights and amplify the creativity of our plans.  To make the best of our field visits, it’s imperative that we ask the right questions.  Similarly, to get the best out of our cross functional brainstorming meetings, rather than brainstorm for answers, it’s even more imperative that we brainstorm for the right questions!  As I contemplate this idea, I came across an article with ideas on how to do this and want to share insights from the article with us.     

The article suggests, and I agree, that asking the right questions could lead to novel and transformative insights. Brainstorming for questions would in fact help us overcome the limiting barriers often associated with individual biases, preconceived notions of what the solution should be, and ‘this is how we do it syndrome’. So, how do we brainstorm for the right questions?

Set the stage

Decide the issue to tackle. Make sure it’s something that’ll benefit from breakthrough thinking or fresh perspectives - something that keeps you awake at night! Then assemble a brainstorming team with diverse knowledge base (i.e. different to yours) and with no direct experience with the problem to stimulate constructive approach to arriving at the right question(s) to ask about the problem.  The empathy associated with asking for help is usually a good trigger to asking the right question. Unlike traditional brainstorming sessions where some people are afraid to suggest answers, brainstorming for questions eliminates that fear because it’s all about asking questions. With the team assembled, take no more than two minutes to lay out the problem and how things would change if it were solved.  Then, give the team opportunity to brainstorm the right questions to ask while helping the team resist the temptation to provide answers or to justify suggested questions.

Brainstorm the questions

Spend about four minutes generating as many questions as possible about the problem. Both you and the team can participate in this. The more probing and provocative the questions the better. The beauty of the time limitation is that it forces creativity of thought and keeps the questions coming even in the short time allowed. Feel free to brainstorm in multiple bursts (e.g. up to three) for the same problem if the team doesn’t hit on breakthrough questions in the first round.

Identify a quest - and commit to it

Once the team is done, you now need to study the questions suggested in detail with a view to identify those that intrigue you as pointing at different ways to reframe your challenge or even make you uncomfortable.  Dig each of the intriguing questions deeper (e.g. by asking the five follow up why questions) in order to arrive at the underlying crux of the challenge you’re brainstorming.  Then, commit to an action plan to derive answers to the underlying crux of the challenge.

Notably, people feel more comfortable with asking questions in a culture that permits creative friction, encourages open and honest pursuit of truth – no matter what that is.  A culture like this is one that only leaders can create and ascertain.  As with traditional brainstorming session, it is important to follow up on questions raised during the session.  You can find the full article here

Please share your thoughts with the CIM South West Linkedin community regarding how you got on with your brainstorming sessions.  As the annual business and marketing plan season unfolds, some of us interested in pointers for better digital customer strategy will find this article interesting: Five ways to create a better digital customer strategy.  Enjoy your business/marketing planning season and keep asking the right questions.

Article reference: ‘Better Brainstorming’ by Hal Gregersen.  Harvard Business Review, March-April 2018