Many innovators understand the value of good questions when brainstorming, and the great answers that they will lead to. However, many companies struggle with the best way to produce these questions. A recent article in Harvard Business Review lays out three simple steps that can help foster an environment for improved brainstorming which begins with asking questions.
This format for brainstorming, named question burst, may seem unnatural for participants at first who are accustomed to only providing answers to problems. However, question burst can be effective for groups of people who may struggle with social loafing or social anxiety and prefer not to participate in group brainstorming for fear of judgement or discomfort. By only asking for questions, participants are more likely to contribute more controversial questions or ideas because they don’t have to decide on a stance.
The first step in a question burst is to set the stage for the brainstorm. It is best to gather a small group of people, some without experience in the problem you are facing. Once you have gathered your group, briefly describe the problem you are facing even if this makes you feel vulnerable to the group. This will help the group to have empathy for the situation and allows them to engage in a comfortable way.
The next step is to start brainstorming the questions. Do not allow the participants to offer any pushback or justification for their questions, which could make them less willing to participate. Acknowledge and write down every question to ensure that the participants feel their questions are valuable. Try to do this for about four minutes and aim for around 15 questions during this time.
The final step is to identify the questions that intrigue you or make you think of the problem in a new way, and then expand on them. There will typically be one question that makes you rethink the problem completely. Explore this question and ask why it seems meaningful or important. By exploring that question you will be able to decide the best actions for the coming weeks to start solving the problem.
Although question bursts may feel uncomfortable at first, they will only flow more easily as you continue to use them. By following these simple steps, you will ensure an improved brainstorming session and new ways to solve your problems.