Innovation Skill Set: What Is Questioning And Why Is It Important?

To create innovation, we should always ask questions. Questions challenge the status quo, and this keeps our thinking fresh. It helps us notice changes in the market and questions allow us to respond to the market in real time. A basic question that can save many companies is, "Why do we do it like this". To become a great innovator, Robert Kennedy's question should be rephrased, "Our competitor's look at the process and say 'why'. We should look at the process and say 'why not---what is stopping us'?

There is a power in provocative questions. Many times a basic question unlocks truths that were not thought and which creates products and brands that were even on the radar screen. In 2001, General Electric was a consumer goods organization whose products and markets had matured. This was a critical juncture for GE. Jeffrey Immelt asked a basic question, "can we create dominate brands and strong, reliable revenue streams from markets of scarcity". He commissioned an intense study to investigate the market potential of sources of energy and products from the sun, wind, and water. General Electric discovered that these sources of energy, from avenues of 'scarcity', could create billion dollar revenue streams for G.E. Ecomagnation is a strategy that is not only creating billions in new revenue, but it is also creating massive amounts of good will for General Electric, as it creates jobs in the nations of emerging markets.

Jeffrey Immelt is a benchmark for what a great innovator is and does. An innovator constantly asks questions that challenge conventional wisdom. To be an innovator, you have to upset the status quo. The GE board originally voted down ecomagnation because they felt that GE could never make money at it. An innovator thinks about how to change the world that exists. Mr. Immelt observed. Mr. Immelt asked basic questions.

Questions to ask are "Why", "Why not", and "what if". Most managers' concentrate on existing production processes. Innovators challenge the assumptions. Cloud computing is becoming an important technology. A manager asked a basic question, "Why are we uploading software, when it can be done over the Internet".

Innovators intentionally come from an opposite direction. To be an innovator you must ask yourself a bunch of questions that are not conventional, as Jeffrey Immelt did. These questions may create a radically different alternative than the conventional means that have been in use. As in the case of GE, the following step after asking questions may create some critical new insights. These are insights that lead to large, new revenue streams, new markets, and new brands.
We compose restraints on our thinking when forced to deal with real-world limitations, such as resource allocations or technology restrictions. Great questions actively loose constraints on our thinking and serve as a motivation for out-of-the-box insights. As Google likes to say, "Creativity loves constraints." The constraints make us think of new ways that create new value propositions that our competitors can't match. General Electric's markets were mature. Where was new revenue going to come from? The constraints of the market created billion dollar revenue streams.

Dean Hambleton