"... 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" "
"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
"Human beings are creatures of habit, so 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 and Escape Velocity
"I've always believed that asking the right questions is the essence of design. Phil McKinney proves that point with this wonderful set of killer questions that will jumpstart--or greatly enhance--your innovation efforts."—B. Joseph Pine II, co-author, The Experience Economy & Infinite Possibility
"Product Innovation is a prerequisite to building great brands. Phil's questions are a prerequisite to building innovative products."—Satjiv S. Chahil, former global marketing chief, Apple
From the Author
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:
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.