The 3 Magic Questions To Unlock Your Creative Thinking

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Your business is dying.

Okay, that may not technically be true. It was meant to be a “grabber.” That said, it might be true.

You see, any business that isn’t continually coming up with creative solutions to business challenges is slowly dying. If it’s lucky. If it’s not lucky, it’s quickly dying.

“Okay Bill, I’m now appropriately alarmed. Way to go. But how do we come up with these creative solutions…especially when the pressure is on?” Me: “By asking these 3 questions.” Share on X

There are three questions I like to use that will help you and your team unlock your creative brilliance and apply it directly to the challenge at hand. The three questions, in their short form, are:

  1. What if?
  2. Who else?
  3. How is?

Let’s unpack each of these questions.

What if?

This is the grownup version of “Let’s pretend.” And you should think of it the same way. Because, just as there are no limits to what can come after the words “Let’s pretend…,” there should be no limits to what can come after the words “What if…?”

  • What if we had an unlimited budget for this challenge?
  • What if we had no budget for this challenge?
  • What if our solution had to incorporate the color blue?
  • What if our grandparents were facing this challenge?

The magic isn’t necessarily in the answers to your “What if” questions. The magic is in the conversation that emerges from the answers. That’s because the answers—no matter how silly—will force you to look at the challenge from a different point of view. And this is where creative ideas are born.

After all, Steve Jobs—who had been auditing a college course in calligraphy—once asked, “What if we could make a computer that could do calligraphy?”

I wonder how that turned out?

Magic #Creativity Question #1: “What if?” #innovation #creativethinking #innovativethinking #leadership #producingunderpressure Share on X

Who else?

The chances are pretty good that someone else has already come up with a solution to your challenge—or one very similar. And I don’t mean someone in your industry. I mean someone in a completely different industry—albeit one with similarities to yours.

So, when faced with a challenge, ask yourself (and your team), “Who else has solved a challenge like this?” Examples include:

  • An architect who solved the problem of cooling a structure—without using air conditioning—by studying how termites do the exact same thing in their mounds.
  • A toothpaste maker who learned how to make teeth appear whiter by learning how laundry detergents do the same thing with sheets.
  • An economic software developer who devised a multi-million-dollar algorithm after learning how Renaissance builders solved a problem similar to one he’d been fretting over for months.
Magic #Creativity Question #2: “Who else?” #innovation #creativethinking #innovativethinking #leadership #producingunderpressure Share on X

How is?

The longer version is “How is this like that?” This is all about forcing your brain to find connections that may not be readily apparent (which is why people less brilliant than you haven’t spotted them yet). For example, how is wine like a book? (Aside from the fact that both are very nice in front of a fire, with a cat somewhere nearby.)

Well, in 1440, a goldsmith named Gutenberg saw a machine that pressed the juice out of grapes to make wine (a machine that had been around since the 1st century AD) and thought, “Huh! That grape juice looks kind of like ink. So pressing the juice out of grapes is kind of like pressing ink onto…oh, I don’t know…movable type!” [NOTE: This may not have been Gutenberg’s actual internal monolog. But you get the point.]

I once facilitated a planning meeting for a group of association executives. The meeting was taking place in a casino/resort. For one activity, I divided the group into teams and had them walk around the casino asking themselves the question, “How is running a casino like running an association?” They came up with some very funny answers…but some very valuable ones as well. All by finding connections that others didn’t see.

Magic #Creativity Question #3: “How is?” #innovation #creativethinking #innovativethinking #leadership #producingunderpressure Share on X

So the next time you and your team need creative solutions to a business challenge, try unleashing the power of the three questions!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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