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‘Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.’ Voltaire.

Problem solving is a key part of creativity, and to improve your problem solving, you need to learn to ask better questions.

A well-placed question will challenge your assumptions and reframe your problems. Even the simple questions such as ‘why’ or ‘what if’ can be the first step towards innovation.

Einstein said ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.’ So, to enhance your creativity when working on a challenge, spend more time asking questions that will give you a better understanding of the nature of your problem.

You can try this with a particular challenge you have right now.

WHAT TO DO:

STEP 1: Think of a problem you would like to solve. Anything that begins with ‘How can I…?’ is a good place to start. It could be ‘How can I double my sales?’ ‘How can I communicate something better?’, ‘How can I improve a process?’, or ‘How can I get better balance in my life?’.

STEP 2: Spend at least 10 minutes only coming up with questions. Before you brainstorm any solutions or ideas for the problem, brainstorm questions about the problem itself. For example, if you were working on a business-related problem you might come up with questions like:

  • What will define success?
  • What would the benefits be if I solved the problem?
  • What would that allow me to do?
  • What would happen if I did nothing?
  • What would I do if I had twice (or half) the budget?
  • What would I do if I had more (or less) time?
  • What has worked in the past and what hasn’t worked?
  • What has someone else done?
  • Who could help, and who could I ask?
  • What would make the problem worse?

Ask as many questions as you can, and try to make them open, and as searching as possible.

Write all the questions down. Don’t answer any of them! This may be harder than it might seem – avoid answering questions entirely at this stage.

STEP 3: When you’re done, go through all the questions and highlight, or answer, any that you feel are particularly useful. You’ll probably notice that some questions offer some fresh insight to your problem.

You’ll now understand your problem with fresh perspective and consequently be better placed to create an effective solution.

As the philosopher Alain de Botton notes: “The chief enemy of good decisions is a lack of sufficient perspectives on a problem.” The key to improving your problem solving is therefore asking better questions.

Best of luck,

Phil

For more tips and tricks, get your copy of The Brain Book

What to tell a friend in 3 points:

  • Problem solving follows a process, and questions come before solutions.
  • Asking questions makes you more creative because is helps you reframe problems, challenge your assumptions and find new perceptives on a problem.
  • When you have a challenge or need to solve a problem, before you begin brainstorming solutions, spend 10 minutes just asking questions.
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