Try this powerful question-storming technique to enhance creative problem-solving

Give your team a brain jolt to kickstart creativity, by asking them to question-storm 50 questions in 15 minutes about your topic. It’s a jolt if people are not used to asking a lot of questions. They are used to brainstorming — a technique that focuses on answering questions, not posing questions.

Why should you spend time question-storming?

Peter Drucker renowned management guru, nailed it when he said,

The most common source of management mistakes is not the failure to find the right answers. It is the failure to ask the right questions… Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question.

Are you asking the right questions? The secret to finding the right question that will lead you to the right answer is to ask a lot of questions, especially compelling ones. So be sure to spend time question-finding before you leap into solution-finding.

Try the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the Right Question Institute*

  1. Design a Question Focus-Pick a problem or challenge that is important to you. It should be clear and stimulate new lines of thinking. It should not be a question.
  2. Establish rules– and a time limit (5-15 minutes):
    – Ask as many questions as possible.
    – Do not stop to answer, judge, or to discuss the questions.?
    – Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
  3. Produce Questions – Use your Question Focus to formulate as many questions as you can. Aim for 50 questions in 15 minutes to give your team a brain jolt.
  4. Improve Questions– Once you have a list of questions, the next step is to try to improve them. For example change binary yes/no questions into open ended ones.
  5. Sort your questionsinto common themes and prioritize them: Choose 3-4 questions which have the most potential.
  6. Take action– Decide what you need to do next to generate creative solutions.
  7. Reflect on what you have learned as a group and how you will integrate your insights into your work

Note: If you are working with a group of 10 or more people, break down the group into smaller teams of 4-8 people.

See also: Are You Stuck on a Problem? Start Questioning Your Assumptions

My experience using QFT with a tech team

I challenged a tech team recently to question-storm 50 questions in 15 minutes using QFT and they were shocked by my request. A chorus of critics burst out sounding alarm bells. “We can’t do this!” they cried. But with a little encouragement they were able to meet the challenge; they just had to break out of their fixed mindsets and limiting beliefs. My task was to keep them focused and stop them from telling stories, or answering questions. For people whose job it is to solve problems, it is hard not dive into solutions.

On reflection the team said question-storming:

  • Breaks the habit of answering questions
  • Creates a brain flow
  • Re-framed the way I think about problems
  • Uncovers assumptions
  • Helped clarify my thinking about the problem

As a result they had much better questions for idea generation, and the process helped them generate specific actionable ideas that could really help grow their IT business.

Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Question-storming is collaboration tool for teams.

* This process is adapted from The Right Question Institute with permission under their (cc) creative commons licence. Question-storming 50 questions was inspired by Hal Gregersen, co-author of the Innovators DNA.

This post was originally published on my column at