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You are only as great as the questions you ask

asking great questions

Leaders lead through questions.

Farnam Street published a post about the art and science of asking better questions. The post includes some good tips on how about asking great questions, so be sure to check it out after you are done here.

Anyway, this got me thinking…

I like listening to interviews of any kind. Ever since I was a kid I like to watch and listen to the post-game interviews of sports events like the NBA Finals or the Super Bowl. Sometimes it is repetitive, but listening to these interviews helped me understand what makes a good interviewer. It also helps me understand how to ask and when to ask questions.

I also watched late shows like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan, etc. And also watch Charlie Rose every now and then. I like watching them because they are in the business of getting people to talk.

There are all kinds of questions. From sports, business, life, etc. And as a leader, having that arsenal in your head is very potent because…

If you want to lead, you need to re-frame

For innovators and leaders who want to unleash innovation inside their companies, developing the ability to ask great questions is imperative. To be able to re-frame a problem in a way that sparks different answers is a very valuable skill. And, it is probably one of the most difficult skills to master. Of course, for innovators it all starts with the known suspects: “why”, “why not” and “what if”.

But, there are more specific questions we can ask. And, even more profound ones.

For example, here are 46 Questions to help innovators know what customers want. These were taken from the table of contents from Tony Ulwick’s book What Customers Want:

Formulating Innovation Strategy

1. Who Is the Target of Value Creation and How Should It Be Achieved?
2. What Types of Innovation Are Possible?
3. What Growth Options Should Be Considered?
4. Where in the Value Chain Should We Focus to Maximize Value Creation?
5. How Do We Handle Multiple Constituents with Potentially Conflicting Outcomes?

Capture Customer Inputs

6. Why Should Companies Gather Customer Requirements?
7. What Three Issues Plague the Requirements-Gathering Process?
8. What Types of Data Do Companies Commonly Collect from Customers?
9. What Customer Inputs Are Needed to Master the Innovation Process?
10. What Methods Should Companies Use to Obtain the Necessary Information?
11. How Do You Know Which of the Three Types of Inputs You Should Capture?

Identifying Opportunities

12. What Is an Opportunity?
13. What Three Common Mistakes Are Made in Prioritizing Opportunities?
14. How Should Companies Prioritize Opportunities?
15. How Do You Identify Underserved and Overserved Markets?
16. How Dos Value Migrate Over Time?
17. What Implications Does the Outcome-Driven Paradigm Have for Competitive Analysis?

Segmenting the Market

18. What Is the Purpose of Segmentation?
19. How Has the Practice of Segmentation Evolved?
20. Why Are Traditional Segmentation Methods Ineffective for Purposes of Innovation?
21. What Is Different About Outcome-Based Segmentation?
22. How Is Outcome-Based Segmentation Performed?
23. How Does Outcome-Based Segmentation Address Development and Marketing Challenges?
24. How Is Job-Based Segmentation Different, and When Should it Be Used?

Targeting Opportunities for Growth

25. What Is Different About Targeting for Innovation?
26. What Types of Broad-Market Opportunities Are Likely to Be Attractive?
27. What Segment-Specific Targeting Strategies Are Effective?
28. How Does a Targeting Strategy Result in a Unique and Valued Competitive Position?
29. Why Do Companies Fail to Target Key Opportunities?

Positioning Current Products

30. Why Does Messaging Often Fail to Tout a Product’s True Value?
31. What Are the Prerequisites for an Effective Messaging Strategy?
32. What Messaging Will Be Most Effective?
33. Should a Company Message Along an Emotional or Functional Dimension?
34. How Does the Sales Force Have Immediate Impact on Revenue Generation?
35. What Is the Advantage of an Outcome-Based brand?

Prioritizing Projects in the Development Pipeline

36. What Issues Do Companies Face When Prioritizing Projects?
37. What Method Is Used to Identify the Winners and the Losers?
38. Which Efforts Should Get Top Priority?
39. What Other Factors Affect Project Prioritization?

Devising Breakthrough Concepts

40. Why Does Traditional Brainstorming Often Fail to Produce Breakthrough Ideas?
41. How Are Breakthrough Concepts Successfully Generated?
42. What Are the Mechanics Behind Focused Brainstorming?
43. Why Do Traditional Concept-Evaluation Methods Fail?
44. How Is the Customer Scorecard Used to Evaluate Product and Service Concepts?
45. How Are These Methods Applied in Practice?
46. What Is the Role of R&D in the Innovation Process?

More and better questions equal more and better solutions.

So, how can start asking great questions?

Here are three tips:

  1. Identify and collect great questions. Questions are everywhere, and it is as simple as storing them in a notebook. You can find them on surveys, books, white papers and even on Quora. There is an endless source of supply.
  2. Use a tool like the Reframing Matrix. Reframing is about shifting perspectives, this simple tool helps you do that in a visual way.
  3. Use other people’s brains. If you have a diverse set of friends with different backgrounds and professions, use their brains. How would they see your problem from their point of view?

If you know a good book or have any additional tips about “asking better questions”, shoot me an email. Or, even better, post it in the comments below :)

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