What’s your question?

strategic shifting for innovationSometimes an interesting questions doesn’t come out nowhere, it requires some serious inquiry and reflection. Defining the real problem is the key part of the innovation process, if you don’t figure out the right question to lead your effort you will end up solving the same challenge, in the same way, that everyone else.  

At the beginning of the year, I collaborated with an innovation consultancy in Mexico D.F. on a project about dog adoption. To begin, we went out and met people, asked them some questions and generally observed how they interact with street dogs. We then took our notes and observations, put them together and uncovered some great insights, which we then turned into questions that gave us some holes to keep digging through.

Still, it dawned on me that like most organizations, the NGO we worked with had an uninspiring mission statement that any other dog adoption organization could have. So, connecting the on-the-ground insights with this, we shifted the conversation to something more thought provoking!

To shift how we helped the NGO approach dog adoption, we turned their mission statement on it’s head: When they were asking themselves, “how might we encourage people to adopt dogs?”, we turned this into “what if dogs adopted people?”.

Everything changed after that!

It provoked excitement, inquiry and engagement. People got a sense that they were indeed looking for a more innovative way to approach the challenge of dog adoption. This question leads our ongoing efforts…

Similarly, yesterday I was reading an article about “affective computing” which tries to answer the following question: What if marketing and advertising were able to instantly self-modify on the fly based on immediate nonverbal feedback?

Isn’t this interesting? It frames everything about advertising in a different light, doesn’t it?

In a similar vein, just like company mission statements, when people ask us what we do we usually answer with an uninspiring answer that doesn’t provoke any authentic engagement. So, to help us think differently about what we do, a better approach is to ask ourselves: what’s the question that our work is trying to answer?

Bottom line: Questioning is often the starting point of innovation. Therefore, if you want better answers, ask better questions.

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