Mastering the skill of asking solid questions that lead to great ideas is no easy task. In this article we discuss Brainstorming Question Types – Preparing For The Design Ideation Stage.
If you have ever conducted an interview, or participated within a panel of people then you will realise that asking uninspired questions really puts a downer on the flow of the conversation and workflow.
When you’re in the ideation stage and preparing to start brainstorming, asking good questions is key to generating those brilliant ideas.
Alot of designers including myself have been part of brainstorming sessions that started off on a good path and then mid-way through just lost direction, or were doomed from the start.
By developing your skills in the art of asking great questions, you provide you and your team great opportunities for successful brainstorming sessions.
How do you achieve this?
Brainstorming is a powerful creative tool and technique that aids in tackling complex creative problems by generating ideas quickly and on the spot that can then be developed further to help solve a creative problem.
Brainstorming is a vital part of starting a creative project, and can be done alone or as part of a group.
When brainstorming is done correctly it will allow you to empty your mind and think more clearly allowing you to freely explore a wide variety ideas and possible directions to move forward.
The final solution will be reached a lot more effectively by using a solid brainstorming process.
The aim of this article is to empower you to start asking good solid questions that lead to generating good ideas and directions to move your projects forward.
Some of the most productive questions are open-ended, short, simple and straight to the point.
By shifting your focus from descriptive, easy questions such as
- What is currently working?
- What’s not currently working?
to more complex and engaging questions such as:
- Why is this currently working?
- Why is this not currently working?
- What if we…?
These types of questions, more often than not, will produce better outcomes.
In this article I will guide you through some different types of questions including examples that can help you ask better questions that will lead to greater ideas for your projects.
Why are Questions important?
Performing a brainstorming session is open-ended and spontaneous, and to fully understand why we should be asking the right questions we must understand the psychology behind the purpose of brainstorming.
We as humans are constantly monitoring what we say in fear of judgement. When working we proof our emails two or three times before finally hitting that send button.
When in a meeting we hold back in the fear of saying something that may make us sound silly and this is totally understandable.
People get employed, released and in some cases promoted at work based on their intelligent decisions.
Brainstorming sits outside of those real-life insecurities and introduces vulnerability without the fear of being judged for saying something that may not be a good idea or even make any sense at all.
People feel free to contribute possible ideas without that fear of being judged by others. Creating such environments is tough as it’s a fundamental disruption of our behavior and thinking.
Promoting ideation, one must proceed with a brainstorming session with the type of questions that make everyone involved feel safe and secure to share their own thoughts and feelings about the subject, topic or project, and the questions must reinforce the environment.
If the questions are too open-ended, closed-off, or inappropriate for the session, the participants will shut down and the session will be a flop.
Asking good appropriate questions is tough but vital, and I hope to make this as simple as possible.
Asking Observational Questions
An observation question can be answered by one’s senses, its basically anything that can be touched or heard.
These sorts of questions are really ideal for starting a brainstorming session.
By asking this type of question you invite the participants to answer questions based on their experiences which will set the overall direction of the session.
For instance, you can start your brainstorming session with open-ended observational questions like:
- By looking at the products in front of you, what do you notice?
- When looking at this website, what is it the stands out to you?
- What are we trying to achieve in this brainstorming session?
- In your opinion, what are some solid steps we can take to move this project forward?
Much of the time during brainstorming sessions it may stall due to participants feeling like they are being directed in a specific way, this can lead those involved to become self-conscious about giving a “correct” answer.
Eliminating this fear can be achieved by asking observational open-ended questions, as the participants are commenting in general about what they notice.
Observational questions are great to ask in a variety of settings, they can be asked while people are working so they don’t feel out of place, in pairs, groups giving people the opportunity to write down their ideas based on their observations this helps them understand them fully before sharing them with everybody involved in the session.
It’s always a good idea to experiment and test different ways of holding your brainstorming sessions to see what method works best – in the end it’s a lot of fun to do!
Asking Introspective Questions
By asking introspective questions, participants will be encouraged to think hard and look inwards, rather than focusing on visual processing, participants focused on emotional or cognitive processing.
Rather than asking the people involved what they notice about the web page they are looking at, instead ask:
- How would you describe the web pages difficulty when interacting with it?
- Is there an element of this site that you are drawn to?
- Are there any similarities of this website that remind you of other websites?
- Are there any questions you have about this website?
- How do you personally feel about this project?
- What excites and does not excite you about this project?
Introspective questions can inspire participants of a brainstorming session to dig deep into their emotions and experiences.
I would recommend using these types of questions mid-session when the participants are comfortable and already in the flow of the session as it will keep the flow of the session strong.
Just keep in mind that introspective questions can exhaust people’s minds as they require a deeper level of thought and you don’t want to wear people out mid-session.
Use introspective questions with care to create meaningful and actionable conversations.
Because introspective questions have a personal and emotional effect, it will encourage participants to jot down their thoughts and ideas and share them with the group.
It gives everyone the opportunity to share their honest thoughts, ideas and feelings in a comfortable way. Allow all participants plenty of time to reflect before joining with the rest of the group to share their responses.
Asking Retrospective Questions
By asking retrospective questions your asking the participants to look backwards, this allows members of your brainstorming session to share significance or implications of the current topic.
They encourage people to think about what they have learned from the brainstorming session.
They are efficient questions but fun at the same time and a great way of translating ideas into actionable steps.
- What have you learned from this brainstorming session?
- Is there anything you would like to explore more and learn more about?
- Is there anything you would like done differently?
- Is there any other information we should research before starting this project?
- What categories should we sort our ideas into?
My advice would be to ask retrospective questions at the end to wrap up the brainstorming session by distilling your thoughts and ideas into learning a way forward.
By asking these types of questions at the start of the session it does not leave much room to develop the conversation. Use them to conclude the session to further the discussion for a later session.
Asking Lateral Thinking Questions
You can fall into predictable patterns when thinking and talking about problems and the issues we are facing. We are human after all, and as humans we are wired for patterns.
We all have daily routines that we follow, communicate with people in predictable ways, and think in familiar ways. When conducting a brain storming session we want to set aside familiar and predictable, saying it is easy but accomplishing it is no easy task!
Lateral thinking questions will change the flow of your brainstorming session by surprising the participants and throwing them off guard. The point is to encourage them to think about something in a different way.
Make your brainstorming session valuable to everyone involved, and get creative with these types of questions.
Questions such as:
- Should we try a different approach to what we are currently doing?
- If we did not complete this project what would happen?
- How can we think about this problem from a different person’s perspective?
- What would this project look like with infinite resources?
Asking Actionable Questions
As your brainstorming session comes to an end, participants will be eager to find out what they can do with the information they have put together.
It’s challenging transforming a brainstorming session that can be messy and chaotic into an actual process to move a project forward.
Actionable questions are handy to drive things forward into actionable steps.
Actionable questions can be:
- Be specific about things we should start, stop altogether and areas we should continue to work on?
- Who is it that is going to take the first step?
- Which actionable step should we start with?
By asking the types of questions we have discussed in this article should give you a good foundation to build on and create good solid brainstorming sessions that will generate ideas and processes to move your projects forward with actionable steps you can follow.
Just remember when you drop these actionable questions into your session, it’s a sign that you’re close to finishing off your brainstorming session.
My last piece of advice is before dismissing everyone, check that everyone involved understands everything that has been discussed and that all the participants are on the same page before moving forward.
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