Google were banned from asking ridiculous ones; Harvard asks insightful ones.

Questions hijack your brain and can unlock your big idea’s potential. Here’s why…

Woman on the left looking across and upwards with a backdrop of hand drawn question marks surrounding her.

“How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?” and “How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?” were amongst the questions Google interviewers were banned from asking potential employees. Brain teasers may stretch and challenge your neural pathways but you could argue they offer limited value in the actual answer. You’re either right or wrong. Asking the right questions, in the right way can, on the other hand, prime your idea for success.
(click to tweet)

Author of the 4-Hour Work Week Tim Ferriss says “The way you become world-class is by asking good questions.(click to tweet) Harvard know this only too well. And if it’s good enough for Harvard, it’s good enough for us. Harvard now use a 4 slide format for reporting. They ask:

What was the goal?
What did we do?
How did it go?
What will this change for us?

John G Miller, author of “QBQ — The Question Behind the Question” identified there are 15 reasons to ask questions, including to enable a person to discover answers for themselves and to stimulate creativity and idea generation.

The surprising truth behind what happens to your brain when you’re asked a question is that it immediately has a reflex action called “instinctive elaboration”. This means thinking about the answer takes over our brain’s thought process, we can’t think of anything else. Our brains are literally hardwired to answer questions, we can only focus on one idea at a time.

If the question is about a potential future decision it actually has an impact on your decision in the future. This is known as the “mere measurement effect” and back in 1987 Greenwald et al found that asking people if they were going to vote increased the likelihood of them voting by 25%; In 1993 Moritz found that asking people questions about their intention to buy a car or computer led to increased purchase rates for computers and cars. Questions change behaviour. (click to tweet)

Tamir and Mitchell’s (2012) research found that disclosing information about yourself is intrinsically rewarding. When you’re asked your opinion about something the reward and pleasure centres of your brain fire up so you feel good.

Most of us know the essentials about asking great questions. We naturally veer away from asking leading questions and avoid asking “either or” questions. There’s a skill to asking even better questions though. They can help us think differently, with speed and flexibility. We create better connections when we give our brains a task to handle and expect a prompt outcome to deliver something meaningful rather than a brain teaser which we instinctively know is of no real use to us.

This is one of the reasons why I believe traditional brainstorming rarely works (you can read more here). It’s clunky, haphazard and inefficient with our time.

Questions can cut to the core of your idea and kickstart a neural chain reaction of creativity, changing your perspective and helping you uncover answers.

In his 2013 Malibu TEDx talk, Adam Leipzig shared 5 questions to help you discover your life purpose in under 5 minutes, proving that questions can be powerful things. If you’d like to discover how I use simple questions so you can get confidence and clarity in your ideas, without overwhelm or struggle click here.

Move over blue-sky thinking and let’s herald in the age of better questions.

Originally published on Medium on 17 September 2018.