Advances in business come from asking questions. Yet as we age, we lose the curiosity of youth and ask fewer questions. Consultant Corinne Miller recommends developing QuestionBanks, organized collections of thought-provoking questions that inspire innovative solutions when you face challenges. In a ChangeThis manifesto, she advises:
The source for questions already exist around us, in books, white papers, journals, brochures, competitive intelligence, market research and technical documents. Consider the various outside experts, industry leaders, competitors, suppliers, customers, and even family members who already ask questions about your workplace. "With a little imagination, the sources for questions are nearly endless," she says.
Send an e-mail to 30 people asking "what questions should be asked before taking on a new project?" Collect questions at various meetings in your organization. A helpful question to start that process is: "What are all the questions that people might answer in order to address the company's goals, challenges or problems?" Collect questions in advance of decision-making meetings to help plan each session better and make it more effective.
Look for patterns that will indicate the categories that the questions can be stored in, for appropriate retrieval when needed. Sometimes the topic might have an industry standard categorization already. Once questions are organized by category, eliminate duplicates - but be sure that the duplicate is not just another perspective. If there are too many questions to use routinely, prioritize the most important ones.
Although it's common to begin brainstorming with "there's no such thing as a bad question," not all questions are good ones. So keep refining your questions to make sure they are open-ended, not easy to answer, and provocative. Use enabling words like "can" - "what can we do to improve?" - rather than the more limiting "should."
Rudyard Kipling provides guidance for QuestionBanks with his quote: "I keep six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew; their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who." A good QuestionBank contains a mix of those question types. Two of the most provocative questions you can ask are: "What or how might people change or improve ____ to ____?" and "What new or different ideas might change or improve _____?"
Make sure somebody is accountable for each QuestionBank, ensuring periodic improvements and maintenance. That person should be in a position of responsibility in the organization.