My friend and fellow motivational speaker (I could also include “Seattle business legend” and “self made millionaire”) Sunny Kobe Cook has an interesting theory, and one with which I agree:

“Being innovative in business usually starts with a question.”

A sking a question is one of the best ways to spark creativity and innovation, either individually or within a team. Why? Because our brains will try their best to answer whatever question(s) we put to them. And since it’s estimated that 72% of Americans have functioning brains (that percentage rises if you exclude Congress), the odds are that you and your team have functioning brains which will in turn try to answer the questions you put to them.

So, what kind of questions should you be asking? If innovation is your goal, you need to be asking open ended questions. Here are some of my favorites:

How?

How can we increase our customer base while keeping our existing customers?

How can we surprise and delight our clients so that they’ll become not just clients, but real fans?

How can we increase job satisfaction, and therefore reduce turnover, without hurting our bottom line?

How would the industry leader (or our biggest competitor) solve this problem?

Why?

Why do our customers really buy from us?

Why are we losing market share?

Why is our workday 9 to 5?

Why would somebody buy from our competitor instead of from us?

And my favorite:

What if?

What if we eliminated our hierarchical corporate structure?

What if we stayed open until 11pm?

What if we painted the conference room green or blue (studies show that green and blue boost creativity)?

What if our major supplier went out of business tomorrow?

Note that these are not earth-shatteringly innovative questions. In fact, they’re the kind of questions that every business should be asking itself. But they’ll still get the brain working. Sunny suggests picking one primary question per quarter, and asking it repeatedly. Ask it of your team, your vendors, your friends in non-related businesses. Ask it at your team meeting, and then tell your team that you’ll be asking it again at the nextteam meeting so they can give it some thought.

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