What’s the number one thing you could do today to improve your creativity?
That’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few months. If creativity is such a science of thinking, there has to be something we could do to drastically improve our capacity for having original though, right?
As it turns out, there is something you can do to dramatically improve your creative capabilities. You can start doing it today and have noticeable results immediately. What is this seemingly magical trick?
Simply getting into the habit of asking more questions.
That’s it! When you learn to ask more question and when you learn to ask the right types of questions, creative solutions almost magically stumble out in front of you.
I guarantee it.
It’s like this: Imagine that you’re sitting in a room, on a chair, blindfolded. In front of you is a plain table with a single item sitting on top of it. Without feeling the object, you have to figure out what it is and what it’s value might be.
This is our metaphorical exploration of the creative process.
The only tool available to you in this room is another person who can only give you feedback in terms of “yes” and “no” responses. We will label this person plainly as: the helper.
One method to discovering what the item on the table in front of you might be is to simply ask the helper what the object is. “Is it a toy ball?” you might question. To which the helper would reply yes or no.
Asking straight-out what the object may be can take some time, but you may be surprised at how quickly seemingly regular objects can be detected by simply asking whether it is or is not something specific.
Of course, there are a lot of limits to this approach, and if you don’t just happen to get lucky in the first dozen or so guesses, you may run out of options quickly.
What if the object is something you’ve never encountered before? What if it’s something that cannot be described with words you know? Asking what the object may be is a quick way to fail, in this case.
An alternative approach is to simply ask more rounded and full questions. You could try asking questions to define the characteristics of the object (e.g. “Is it something I could easily pick up? Does it have a rough texture? Would it make for a good holiday decoration?”). You could ask questions about the uses of the object (e.g. “Does it have one clear purpose? Is it something my pet would enjoy? Would I want it in my home?”). You could even ask questions about what the object is not (e.g. “Is it not valuable? Is it not part of a larger something?”).
This scenario is the equivalent of creative problem solving, where the object you’re attempting to discover (in reality: a new idea or solution to a problem), may be something you’ve never, ever encountered before.
In-fact: the majority of the time, if what you’re hoping to do is something new and unique (creative by definition), then keeping to specific questions isn’t going to help you much. You have to ask questions that are more rounded and completely exploratory.
Thanks to our helper (which, if you couldn’t figure it out, in the real world is either your imagination or the process of trial and error), simply asking a lot of questions can quickly lead to successful discovery, because it lets us cover a lot of ground very quickly.
I use this technique of asking rounded questions for creative solution finding every single day, and it has yet to fail me.
When confronted with a project at work I immediately go into question-asking mode. I ask questions that aren’t specific to the project, but are often more broad or ambiguous. Questions about hypothetical or ideal situations, or questions relating to different times or resource constraints (real or not).
The result of my question asking: people who are working on the project are amazed, often even startled that they hadn’t thought of the questions first.
With these questions insights are immediately discovered by the team, problems that may pop-up later down the road are caught, and additional questions and ideas start spinning around.
All because I have trained myself to ask a lot of questions consistently, and to keep those questions as descriptive yet disconnected as possible.
How do I know what questions to ask? It’s taken me a lot of time to know exactly which questions work well and when. But there’s an easy way anyone can start asking solid questions for creative discovery: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
Asking questions like: Who am I trying to think of this idea for? Who could I look to historically as someone who would have had similar ideas? What if the idea was infinitely bigger or smaller? What if the idea was a thousand years in the future? What if the idea was inverted (physically or otherwise)? When would this idea be obsolete and how does that impact it today? When was the last time someone tried a similar idea and how did that end up? Why would anyone care about this idea? Why wouldn’t someone in a different situation struggle with this problem?
These questions are so immensely powerful that they’ve become the primary strategic point for companies, consultancies, creative coaches, successful businesses, innovators, and even games or creativity apps (like the one I created with hundreds of example questions: oflow).
If you want to be more creative today, start getting into the habit of asking a lot of questions, often.
There is nothing more powerful you could do right now to gain creative insights more regularly. Or is there?