For a long time we have assessed the creative and innovation potential of a company (or other organisation) by its capacity to come up with novel answers. Many times we generated these through some form of brainstorming. But there is increasing awareness that we have a better alternative.
Let’s talk about brainstorming
The popular method or rather container term to solve problems, brainstorming, has been around for several decades. In many different forms, shapes, sizes and then some. With rare exceptions the million tools that people use in brainstorm sessions revolve around coming up with many and especially wild ideas, i.e., answers. Most of the tools work with principles like free association, stress that there are no bad ideas and encourage people to not have limitations in their thinking.
Results so far are, let’s say it politely, mixed. At best. The Church of Creativity does not allow its disciples to say bad things about it. It is however becoming pretty clear that in many situations the methods that should free people’s minds do little of the sort. The main reason, to put it as simple as possible, is the psychological pressure that “give us a good idea” puts on people who usually have very few ideas. All the post-its and fancy colours in the world cannot change that.
The switch away from traditional brainstorming
Slowly, we see a switch happening. Very slowly. The realisation that to get to actual (good) ideas we need to build on a much stronger base. In other words we need to focus more on generating inquisitive, curious questions. People are made for questions, with fewer exceptions than for answers. But no company in the world is prepared for that. Even if they have embraced “being creative” they more likely than not measure the success by some metric capturing the quantity and quality of the Ideas, i.e., answers. The incentives are all wrong.
The Question Quotient
So this is what I propose instead: if you want to move away from the Fear of Ideas, start to measure something else: the Q2, or in full, the Question Quotient. It is easiest to explain based on an example. Say you, ’the boss’, are interested in bringing a new product to the market. Instead of the classic strategy to call people together to brainstorm for ideas, you now have the option to first let them passionately generate a lot of questions about it. That’s the first component, simple quantity (A). Next, you go through the ideas and select the ones that are most helpful. That’s your second component, relevance (B). While pure quantity goes a long way in increasing the chance that there will be gems, not all questions are in fact good. You can read more about that in this wonderful article. To really shake up your culture, you then create a disincentive for sneaking in answers, the drain (C). You can repeat the process several times and eventually move to ideas, but not as a first step.
The Q2 that you can then easily calculate is kind of a new ABC…: (# total generated questions A * # relevant ideas B ) / (# sneaked in answers C) + 1). See what this does incentive-wise? More initially generated ideas (A) means a higher value and more relevant ideas B means a higher value. More answers sneaked in (C) however means a lower value. So you are encouraging quantity and quality of questions and discouraging falling back in the old habit (answers)..
Not a one-time thing
By applying this to a sequence of situations, problems, ideas, you get a pretty good idea how the Q2 is evolving. Are people catching on, are they kicking the old habit of jumping to answers, are they putting their effort in to really go for it, the questions? And do they get better at creating ones that are relevant, without holding back with regards to the total number? These would all be signs that your switch is working.
Have fun and go shape an inquisitive organisation with a High Q2 culture. You may find some inspiration here.
This post was also published on Medium.