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Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation [Kindle Edition]

Phil McKinney
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Generating and executing great ideas is the key to staying ahead in a rapidly changing world. It seems so basic. Why is it so hard to actually get right? The real problem is that we're teaching people to ask the wrong questions -or none at all. There has to be a better way.

In Beyond the Obvious, McKinney helps the reader to dig deeper and get back to asking the
right questions-the ones all organizations must ask to survive. Full of real-world examples, this book will change the way you operate, innovate, and create, and it all begins with battle-tested questions Phil has gathered on note cards throughout his career and shared for the
first time.
  • What are the rules and assumptions my industry operates under?
    What if the opposite were true?
  • What will be the buying criteria used by my customer in five years?
  • What are my unshakable beliefs about what my customers want?
  • Who uses my product in ways I never anticipated?
These questions will re-frame the way you see your products, your customers, and the way the two interact. Whether you're a company of thousands or a lean start-up, Beyond the Obvious will give you the skills and easy-to-follow plan you need to make both the revolutionary
changes and nuanced tweaks required for success.

Editorial Reviews


" ... practical guide to consistently generating innovation."

"... an invaluable guide to extracting ideas from the book and applying them within an organization."

"McKinney gives organizations the tools they need to generate ideas and know that they're moving in the right direction."

Publisher Weekly  12/16/2011

"In this bright, informative debut, McKinney ... writes that anyone can become an "idea person" "
"Offering vivid examples of how his approach has worked at HP and elsewhere ... "

"Valuable and ready for immediate use."

Kirkus Reviews 12/28/2011

"An empowering new voice for business readers, Phil McKinney will change your Monday with his rule-breaking approach to harnessing the power of innovation. This book is a killer read for anyone who hopes to triumphantly succeed and not just survive."

--Peter Guber, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Tell to Win

"... getting ourselves and our teams to think beyond the obvious is a challenge we face all the time. Phil McKinney is an innovation expert, and his killer questions and hit-the-spot anecdotes provide a great way to get out in front of opportunities we otherwise won't see."

--Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm

"Many assumptions about our business ultimately turn out to be wrong .... In Beyond The Obvious, Phil McKinney arms readers with the skills to ask razor-sharp questions that lead to better ideas and more effective innovations."

-- Wendell P. Weeks, chairman and CEO, Corning

From the Author

Excerpt of Chapter 1:  The Power of Questions

I've been fascinated by the power of questions, either good or bad, for my entire professional life. The more I thought about them, the more I began to notice how people used them. I started to see how some people had the innate ability to formulate and pose questions that propelled others to make investigations and discoveries of their own, and some people had the less desirable ability to shut their listeners down with bad questions, poorly asked. I believe that a good question is one that causes people to really think before they answer it, and one that reveals answers that had previously eluded them. I began to think more about how an individual could learn to ask good questions and avoid the pitfalls of asking bad questions. I also wondered whether a poor questioning technique could become a crutch, something that allows you to believe you are accomplishing something positive, when in fact you are doing the opposite.

As I listened to my children ask challenging questions of each other I realized I had taught them a profound skill. By passing on a love of questions I'd shared my belief in the importance of getting out there and proactively making our own discoveries about the world. My children weren't afraid or ashamed of not knowing an answer; instead they were invigorated by the process of finding it. I compared this attitude to the converse one that I'd seen throughout my career, namely employees who felt compelled to agree with their superiors or believed that saying "I don't know" would adversely affect their career. These men and women would have benefitted greatly from simply being empowered to admit that they didn't know, to ask good questions, and to seek out the relevant answers.

Bad Questions, Good Questions

The more I started to look at questions, and how essential they are to fostering creativity and innovation, the more I realized that there are bad questions and there are good questions. And within those good questions, some just aren't relevant to the process of ideation. The key to using this book is to develop the ability to separate the good, useful questions from the bad ones. Here's a quick guide:

Tag Questions:

During my search, I realized that some of the most important questions to avoid are ones that don't really ask for a response at all. For example, tag questions. Tag questions are statements that appear to be questions, but don't allow for any kind of answer except for agreement. A tag question is really a declarative statement turned into a question, and used to get validation for the speaker's "answer." Family members, authority figures, or executives who want to appear to care about the opinion of another person, but really want their instructions carried out without discussion, often favor tag questions. A tag question can show that the speaker is either overly confident of his or her beliefs, or so insecure that he has to bully others into agreeing with him. Either way, his phrasing of the question shows that he is not willing to consider an alternative point of view. You're not actually being asked for an opinion, simply for a confirmation that you agree with them. When lawyers use tag questions in a legal setting, they are sometimes referred to as leading the witness, the questions being posed in such a way as to guide the person in a desired direction.

That presentation was fantastic, wasn't it?

The new brochure will be based on the last version, won't it?

Typically, a person who uses tag questions is a manager who believes that his role is to be directive. However, by doing so he misses out on the potential power of a team. Look at the way you communicate with your co-workers; if you find yourself asking tag questions ask yourself why. Do you doubt their ability to come up with their own answers, or do you already have an answer in mind that you would like them to validate? If you are simply looking to get validation for what you already want or believe, this runs counter to every philosophy about generating new and innovative ideas. When I'm working with a team, I'll always use a series of questions to see what they come up with, even when I already have an idea in mind of what the answer may be. Even if I give them that answer, it's always presented as a challenge for them to come up with something better.

Factual vs. Investigative:

After more searching and studying, I came up with two basic categories of good questions: factual and investigative. So, what are the differences between them? The objective of a factual question is to get information: "Do you want coffee or tea?" "How many units did we sell last week?" "Is there gas in the car?" You may not know the immediate answer to a factual question, but you know how to find it. There is no real discovery required beyond expressing your opinion, making a call, or looking at the gas gauge. Factual questions serve an important purpose in allowing us to communicate with each other and exchange information. They are limited in their ability to do anything more nuanced than gather information.

An investigative question, on the other hand, cannot be answered with a yes or a no and is much more useful for our purposes. By definition, it is a divergent question, meaning that there is more than one correct answer (unlike factual questions). It cannot be answered with one phone call, or a quick check at some stats or figures, and forces us to investigate all of the possibilities.

The Socratic Method:

So how do you generate some good investigative questions? One of my starting points is the Socratic Method. Socratic questions are, in their simplest definition, questions that challenge you to justify your beliefs about a subject, often over a series of questions, rather than responding with an answer that you've been taught is "correct." A well-phrased series of Socratic questions challenges you to think about why you believe your "answer" to be correct, and to supply some sort of evidence to back up your beliefs. At the same time a Socratic set of questions doesn't assume you are right or wrong.

When using this method, Socrates would lead his listener to a deeper understanding of his own beliefs and how and why he justified them. When a student attempted to fall back on a belief prefaced by "I've heard it said that such and such is true," Socrates would gently push further, asking him what he himself actually thought, until the student finally got to the heart of what he thought and believed. Socrates would also find contradictions in a student's expressed belief, and ask him questions that forced him to consider these contradictions. Ultimately Socrates' goal was to help the student unveil his own thoughts and his own beliefs, and see them clearly for the first time. It was only by finally articulating one's own thoughts and bringing them into "open air," that the student could fully understand the depths of his own knowledge.

Socrates believed that knowledge was possible, but believed that the first step toward knowledge was recognition of one's ignorance. It's the same in the idea-generation process; the first step to freeing yourself to find innovations is to recognize that the knowledge you currently have is insufficient.

My interest in the Socratic Method, and the glaring gap I found between Socrates' method of teaching with questions, and the way innovation and ideation is "taught" today, started me down the path of searching for specific questions that would challenge others to find opportunities for new ideas--questions I now call Killer Questions. It took me a while to determine them, but in the end I hit upon the old engineering standby; find something that works, and figure out why.

Product Details

  • File Size: 878 KB
  • Print Length: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion (February 7, 2012)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,877 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not worthy of all the 5 star ratings July 18, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
After reading many reviews and seeing how highly rated this book was I eagerly bought it and read it.. I have to admit, it is no where close to a 5 star business book. I think the overall premise of the book, innovate and question everything, is solid but 230 pages later it lacked structure and usefulness. I'm sure the purpose of the book was to assist one to be more innovative but the actionable steps and examples were hard to understand and draw conclusions. In summary, don't let the many 5 star reviews sway you to buy this book like I did.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Innovations can survive corporate antibodies February 26, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a must-read for CTO's as well as anyone that not only wants a fast method for drilling down to the most critical areas for innovation but also practical advice on how to "sell" the innovation to upper management. Legions of innovative ideas are consumed by corporate antibodies. Phil deals with this issue up front and gives sound advice, and a process, to make sure your innovations see the light of day. My copy is completely marked-up and dog-eared for on-going reference.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking February 18, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I came to know of Phil through his book signing at Computer History Museum. The book reinforces one's idea that one should ask killer questions to innovate. His questioning nature and putting them in the book has lot of useful information. I wish the book had more diagrams for showing processes. It is a welcome sign that people write book on their experiences. HP became a problem due to its management at the top. Like a previous reviewer, one cannot blame technologists for the blame. HP still has lot of core innovations and it gets blind sighted due to the enormous competition. They should do that extra 1% to come to mainstream (bring those touch computers back including Palm based hardware. WebOS was on right track before they killed it). Maybe refocus and have a lean organization.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read! February 14, 2012
As a Silicon Valley executive at one of the largest ad agencies, I've become an avid reader of business books in general. This is one of those rare books that will sit as a handbook right next to me. This book gives you a sense as to how anyone can innovate with the right methodology and process. Phil shares his life and path through his extremely successful career, giving insights into what it's like to be a true innovator while making it user-friendly and pragmatic for anyone to accomplish innovation! It's very much worth the read! Phil captured the innovation process through his "Killer Questions" which he shares in this book. More importantly, it challenges everyone with practical applications on how to innovate in their life and career.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid recommendations May 10, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For those who have followed Phil McKinney's podcasts on killer innovation, this book is a good summary of his approach. He breaks things down into the "killer questions" that you should ask. So this is a useful addition to your portfolio of techniques. And McKinney gives some particular examples from his time as CTO. However, as usual for a business book (1) this info here is useful but not everything you need, and (2) the key information can be distilled down to a few pages of good questions.
But would recommend this book as it has some good insight that can complement other techniques.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening February 15, 2012
I find Beyond the Obvious to be an interesting in-depth look at Innovation within large corporations. As someone who has experienced a SIGNIFICANT amount of corporate chaos, McKinney's anecdotes and recommendations throughout the book have given me a lot more perspective on how things can go sideways if done improperly and how companies can stagnate if they don't embrace change in smart ways. It's a lot to think about.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have been a facilitator and consultant for 20 years. My work centers around customers needing help innovating and collaborating. Phil's book provided me with a significant piece for making my sessions with the greatest ROI for the customer. His chapter on operating an innovation session helped me shore up components of delivery that had slipped away a little over the years. Obviously his extensive experience "in the trenches" adds to the credibility of the book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book January 10, 2013
By Oren.M
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very interesting book with good methods on how to think out of the box as the book suggests ... beyond the obvious
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the AMAZING
As an innovation coach I can confirm that Phil's killer questions provide the perfect understanding and structure to any innovation process. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Martina Keens-Betts
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
I was already a fan of Phil's podcast and he did not disappoint in his book. A must read to anyone searching for a concrete framework to establish a innovation process. Read more
Published on November 2, 2012 by Renato Sampaio
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Part is at the End - Don't stop reading!
The last quarter of the book is about how to use the Killer Questions effectively and in a group innovation workshop type setting. Read more
Published on October 24, 2012 by Beth Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars A System for Innovation
How do you innovate and create? How do you get beyond the obvious answers and assumptions that can limit you? Read more
Published on August 11, 2012 by Eric Christensen
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the Obvious
You can be as creative as Pablo Picasso or as innovative as Steve Jobs - or close - no matter who you are. Read more
Published on July 10, 2012 by Rolf Dobelli
5.0 out of 5 stars Own a business? Get this book!
It is simply a must read!! The business world is very much changing today and you must change your strategy within it.
Published on July 1, 2012 by SEli
5.0 out of 5 stars Fellow Innovation Traveler's Review
I am a fellow high tech innovation explorer having spent 15 years at Xerox PARC including managing the Xerox Express Team which experimented with customer co-innovation using... Read more
Published on May 11, 2012 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Beyond the Obvious' - an outstanding read!
Innovation, change and going beyond the norm. These few words describe some of the key aspects to Phil McKinney's new book. Read more
Published on February 22, 2012 by NordicsLtd
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More About the Author

Phil McKinney has held a number of senior executive roles most recently as the vice president and chief technology officer for Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) Personal Systems Group, where he was responsible for long-range strategic planning and research and development for all of the company's PC product lines, including mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc), notebooks, desktops, and workstations.

Over the course of his career, he has been profiled or had his work on innovation written about in media outlets ranging from tech press to Vanity Fair, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. McKinney also writes a column for Forbes called "The Objective," hosts a popular "Killer Innovations" podcast that CIO Insighthas called "a must listen," and tweets from his @philmckinney handle.

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