News & Perspectives

Asking the Right Questions

Asking the Right Questions

Perspective// Posted by: Christine Mason / 31 Jan 2015
Asking the right questions

Anything interesting, anything new, always begins with a question.

The question we're working on now is "What's Worth Doing?" We're asking it about the best organizations: How do the best companies evaluate and rank all of the innovation possibilities on their plate? How do they decide what to take from the lab to market? Where does organizational will for follow though come from? In developing products, how do we know if we're creating froth and noise out of some growth imperative, or real improvement?

We're also asking it about personal and leadership choices: How do people who've consistently done great things filter out the opportunities that come their way? What are their decision criteria? Are they conscious or unconscious? How do they connect their daily choices to make sure they stay with what matters? What role does habit and belief play in this?

If we go one step further, and ask not only "What's worth doing" but "Why is it worth doing," (Why do we want to grow? Why this initiative? Why this move?), we open completely new possibilities and means to the same end.

In general we are trained to ask Who, What, Where and When questions. Those kinds of questions give us information. But pure information is meaningless to the brain; the brain wants meaning. If we ask “Why?” instead, we get much richer answers and an expansion of possibilities. Our friend Beau Lotto gives this simple example, from product development. A marketer engaged in research may want to know, “Will people like the red can or the blue can?” A far more interesting question is, why would they prefer one color or another? Because if you can answer that question, you’d be able to understand and predict when they might prefer, say, a yellow can."

Innovation is always the result of being able to see alternative possibilities. By starting with why, the pool of possibilities grows exponentially.

And firmly staying rooted in your reason "Why" is a compass giving correct guidance as a project moves through from possibility to reality. While you build the "what" day to day, keeping the "why" in focus aligns all the small choices to the larger intention.

So, what's worth doing, and why? How do you decide?

Christine Mason
Christine maps new markets for emerging technologies, scouts for strategic expansion opportunities, and guides internal innovation strategies for leading companies.