Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Challenging the Status Quo Starts with Asking the "Right" Questions

Most of you are probably familiar with the story "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" in One Thousand and One Nights. The gist of the story boils down to Ali Baba stumbling upon a magical phrase "iftaḥ ya simsim," which translates into "open, O sesame", that opens the mouth of a cave in which forty thieves have hidden a treasure.

This story has quite a bit of similarity with the real world. Most of are like Ali Baba, in search of that magical phrase or key to open the riches of innovation. What might that magical phrase be?

Well, a recent blog entry by Warren Berger in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) discusses a "secret phrase" that successful innovators often use. The phrase boils down to three simple words that when used together have the power of stimulating the thought process and get those creative juices flowing. So, what are these magic three words?

"How Might We"

As Berger explains in his blog entry, "the "how might we" approach to innovation ensures that would-be innovators are asking the right questions and using the best wording. Proponents of this increasingly popular practice say it's surprisingly effective — and that it can be seen as a testament to the power of language in helping to spark creative thinking and freewheeling collaboration." 

It makes sense. Talking about challenges discourages problem solving and inhibits innovative thinking. Additionally, it's not just about asking questions because the wrong questions such as "why do we do it this way" or "how should we change" imply judgement that could create an atmosphere of defensiveness as opposed to collaboration. Berger quotes business consultant Min Basadur, who explains that "by substituting the word might you're able to defer judgment, which helps people to create options more freely, and opens up more possibilities."

The Bottom Line - As I mention right from Chapter 1 in my recent book Living in the Innovation Age "Status Quo is the Enemy of Innovation." Principle #3, Innovation is "Where No Man Has Gone Before," in my book also discusses how the best approach of overcoming this status quo is by asking the right questions such as "what if", "why", and "why not". "How Might We" is an excellent question to help you explore the next level of possibilities created by the preceding three questions.  

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