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When questions derail the process

Given my passion for critical thinking and good questions, I was glad to find some balance in the world this week. Scott Anthony wrote a guest blog over at the Harvard Business Review about how questions can kill innovation. He discusses the way that people can use questions to endlessly delay action by analyzing each opportunity to its death. This is true of people within corporations or people who are entrepreneurs.

Continually researching the answer to questions that start out with, “What about . . .” or “What if . . .” can lead to gridlock or inertia. Tom Kelley in The Ten Faces of Innovation gives a name to the people who play this game, Devil’s advocate. They jump into a discussion, “Let me just play Devil’s Advocate for a minute . . . .”

Whether confronting an endless questioner or a Devil’s Advocate, it is possible to move forward. Anthony suggests trying a quick and dirty test in the marketplace with your concept to see what the response is. Kelley encourages people to engage in constructive criticism and debate – to move beyond an argument threatening to destroy a fragile idea or concept.

In my own experience, options for getting unstuck include asking the group or person to step back and remember what the larger goal; doing a quick prototype of an idea or concept; or changing the question to one that requires action, “What is the first step you could take in the two days to make this a reality?” Creativity and innovation can flourish when there is a balance between questions and actions.

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