There's no such thing as a stupid question

posted February 8, 2017


Lauren Byers

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
Albert Einstein

Most of us have heard this from a young age, and it’s a great sentiment. It encourages us to ask the sometimes not-so-simple question: “Why?”
This is important, because questions are powerful. They challenge us to think beyond an
effect to discover a cause. We can see the symptoms, but what’s the diagnosis? Asking questions challenges us to reexamine what we think we know to be true, which, as it turns out, is an incredibly effective way to spark creativity.

Not only does it spark creativity, asking questions — simply being curious — helps us learn. Studies show that when our curiosity is piqued, the parts of our brains that are linked to pleasure and reward become active and dopamine is released. Simply stated, it feels good to be curious. Not only that, curiosity fires up our hippocampus, which is the part of our brain responsible for creating memories.

Why should I care?

Alright, now that we’re all convinced of the benefits of asking questions and generally “being curious,” let’s talk about what that means for us as marketers. Enter: the “question-storm.” The question-storm is exactly what it sounds like: a brainstorm that seeks to generate questions, rather than solutions. Although it may sound contradictory to the whole point of a brainstorm, the practice of asking questions can lead to a deeper analysis of the challenge, itself, which leads to better and more thoughtful solutions.

Not convinced yet? Not only the question-storms lead to better understanding of the challenge at hand, it brings more people into the mix. According to Kristi Schaffner of Microsoft, when asking questions, people don’t “feel the pressure to sound brilliant” like they do when offering outright ideas. Rather than being dominated by just a few loud voices, question generating sessions encourage participation and collaboration.

A storm’s a-brewin’

So, are you sold yet? Are you ready to give this a go? Setting the stage for a question-storm is really quite simple. First, you need the challenge. Rather than starting with a question, it’s best to start with a decisive statement. For example, don’t start your session asking, “Why have sales fallen in Q4?” Try the statement: “Q4 sales have fallen in our 23-34 demographic.” Ready? Set…

Go! Write down as many questions as you can in a defined time frame. Ever played Boggle? Write down anything and everything that comes to mind — do not edit yourself! There’ll be time for that later, so don’t slow yourself down or get hung up on perfecting any one question just yet. You can do this individually, or in groups.

Finally, it’s time to review and revise. Now is the time to look at all questions you came up with, looking for opportunities to expand or contract, noticing trends, prioritizing from most to least important.

The next steps are up to you. The best thing about a question-storm is that it’s inherently actionable: go figure it out. Stay curious, my friends.