innovation-island-buildingIt’s been several months since the Our Revolution road trip, but the experience has stayed with me and often finds its way into my conversations with others. Although Our Revolution is about promoting social change with revolutionary ideas and actions to change perceptions in lives in communities, my friend Lucas asked me an intriguing question – “How did the experience change you?

I have to say that in retrospect, one of the most important takeaways I have from the road trip was an improved technique for coming up with innovative solutions. The technique is similar to what Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, says, “We run the company by questions, not answers.”

Innovation does not spring up out of nowhere. Innovative solutions and answers come first by asking the right questions.  The Our Revolution road trip was full of questions that needed answers. How can we improve a situation? And when you ask a question, it stimulates conversation. It is out of these conversations that come innovation. To stimulate innovation within your team, you need to create a culture of questioning. Here’s how:

1. Set an Example – The behavior of team members always gravitates to the behavior of their leaders. So leaders must be models and set the bar by constantly asking questions. Look for new opportunities by asking questions beginning with “Why?” and “What if?”
2. Look for Improvement – Nothing is perfect, and the environment is always changing. So instead of leaving old ideas and beliefs alone, establish an attitude where everything can and should be improved. Start asking more “How?” questions to promote this kind of improvement-minded thinking.
3. Reevaluate – Again, just because a decision seemed to fit in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean it is still effecting in a changing environment. Assign teams or members to reassess past decisions on a regular basis and ask questions about improvement.
4. Be Different – Some of the best innovations have come from challenging assumptions that most people don’t think twice about. Encourage people to think outside the box by having “The Best Questions” contests and give special appreciation to members who ask great questions.
5. Teach – Question-asking is a skill that can be improved by training and practice. Show members how to ask effective open-ended searching questions. Promote this kind of teaching among your members so they can pass it along to others.

Eric Schmidt, for example, asks Google employees questions like, “How do we make sure that in the area of video, that high-quality video is also monetized?” “What are the next big breakthroughs in search” “What do we do about the various products Microsoft is allegedly offering?”

What are some other great questions you have asked, or have heard people ask, in the past that have led to conversation and innovation? What other ways can you promote question-asking to stimulate innovation in your teams? We would love to hear from you!

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