The Power of Provocative Questions for Creative Problem Solving

Many of us don't give questions a second thought. They're a part of how we gather information from others on a daily basis. But did you realize that asking yourself provocative, thought-provoking questions can be a powerful catalyst for creative problem solving? Here's how.

“If you want to come up with great ideas, then you need to ask great questions.” – Gerald Haman

A common characteristic of highly innovative people is that they are skilled at asking or answering thought-provoking questions that inspire creative and innovative thinking. Questions put you into a creative state of mind by stimulating curiosity, and act something like a magnet to pull forth creative ideas from your mind.

Asking provocative questions has a number of compelling benefits, including:

  • They help us to arrive at a better, more complete definition of the problem or challenge we face.
  • They lead our thinking in fresh new directions, and often help us to take creative leaps that are stepping stones to great ideas.
  • They help us to envision what the ideal future state should look like – which enables us to then work backward from the future to determine what we need to start doing today to bring it about.
  • They lead you to analyze your assumptions, which may hamper your ability to generate great ideas.

Why are questions so powerful?

Your mind naturally attempts to answer questions. A question is like a “hook” for ideas, according to author Tim Wujec, in his excellent book, Five Star Mind. Even the question mark looks like an upside-down hook, he points out.

“The word question comes from the Latin root, quaestio, which means “to seek.” Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest,’ suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure,” he adds

The course of our thinking is determined by the questions we ask. Asking ourselves mediocre questions will tend to lead us down well-worn, rutted paths of thinking. Creative minds, on the other hand, continually ask excellent questions, which enable them to continually formulate and refine ideas.

Opening questions

Opening questions are the most important type of question we can ask, according to Wujec, because they frame our thinking about the problem or creative challenge at hand. Opening questions give your mind a frame of reference as well as a specific target or focal point for producing ideas. Opening questions should be open-ended and plural in nature – for example, “In what ways can I…”

Asking “why?” repeatedly is an effective way to refine your opening question so it will be as precise as possible. This type of question also opens up your mind to a new level of abstraction, a new perspective from which you can re-examine your ideas and assumptions.

About the author


Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded InnovationTools.com and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.

  • Tom Roehm

    I’m still new to this way of thinking about things, It is compelling

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