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Understand the Power of the Question to Drive Innovation

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough IdeasIn his new book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, author Warren Berger urges us to understand that all questions are not created equally. He urges readers to discover compelling solutions by taking a different approach to what others may see as problems or nuisances.

Asking the right questions effectively is a powerful way to drive innovation. Berger encourages focusing on three categories of questions: Why? What If? and How?

The answers to these questions create powerful clarity and lead to transformational change. Berger writes:

In some sense, innovation means trying to find and formulate new questions that can, over time, be answered. Those questions, once identified, often become the basis for starting a new venture. Indeed, the rise of a number of today’s top tech firms – Foursquare, Airbnb, Pandora Internet Radio – can be traced to a Why doesn’t somebody or What if we were to question, in some cases inspired by the founder’s personal experience.

Where to Begin: Asking “Why?”

Often, effective inquiry begins with asking Why, where essential questioning begins to clarify an issue. By confronting, framing, and formulating the right Why questions, the challenge can be articulated clearly and lead to an understanding of the necessary context.

The best questions take a situation that is less than ideal and try to understand what is lacking in the scenario. Asking innovative questions and forming a new perspective allows entrepreneurs to discover new opportunities.

Take, for example, Airbnb. The book details the process that led the Airbnb founders to start their company. Living in San Francisco and short on rent, they realized that many business people in town for conferences were finding it hard to secure hotel rooms. The Why question became: Why should you be stuck without a bed if I’ve got an extra air mattress you can sleep on?

Moving From “Why?” to “What If?”

The leap of faith for entrepreneurs comes in not just finding a problem, but pinpointing what to ask next. This next phase of action questions helps separate entrepreneurs from philosophers. This phase answers the question What If, examining the possibilities that begin to shape a possible solution.

At Airbnb, the leap of faith came when the founders realized there was an opportunity to do more than rent out their few air mattresses. The founders started asking questions like: What if we provide more than just a mattress to sleep on?, What if we create our own website? and What if we could create this business in many major cities?

This phase may require pursuing a number of possible solutions by asking deeper questions about viability, marketability, affordability, and demand. In some ways, this is the most fun phase of effective questioning as it relates to entrepreneurship.

The What If phase needs to move rapidly, but not so fast that potential solutions don’t have time to develop, coalesce, and evolve.

Leading to “How?”

Transformation comes when that one, well-vetted, thoughtful possibility rises to the top. For the entrepreneur, this begins the How phase. In this phase, leaders determine how to move an idea from concept to reality, begin developing a business model, and test product-market fit.

This phase requires persistence and determination on the part of an entrepreneur. Like in each phase, innovative questions are essential, including How do I test my idea to see what works and what doesn’t and If it doesn’t work, how do I figure out what’s wrong and fix it?.

At Airbnb, the founders decided that a political convention in Denver was the place to test their idea. But with no money for advertising, they had to answer the question How are people going to hear about us?

Pitching a “solution story” to local media looking for an angle on the crowded city led to a story on CNN. Airbnb was on its way.

Powerful questions will drive innovation, empower entrepreneurs, and create needed solutions. Read the book and try it out for yourself!

Akira is the Founder & CEO of Cayenne Consulting. He has over 30 years of experience both as an entrepreneur and helping other entrepreneurs succeed. Akira earned his BA in Engineering Sciences from Harvard University. View details.

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