Gary Beck says that igniting imagination comes from rubbing minds together. With all of his leadership and marketing experience (as former President of FCB Database Marketing Group and former Executive Director of Database and Infrastructure for vehicle sales and services marketing at General Motors), he ought to know.
Naturally, questions that make you think differently are an integral part of bringing people (or minds) together. At your next strategic planning session, consider starting with personal accumulation: asking each group member to write down all the potential solutions that they can think of to a particular question. When pens come to a rest, ask group members to share one idea, then proceed in order around the room until all potential solutions have been voiced. In doing so, everyone will get heard, and group members will listen closely so that they don’t repeat an idea.
Be sure to use open-ended questions that don’t point responders to your opinions or cut off potentially creative avenues. Here are some questions that make you think differently that can be asked:
• What is most important to the customer?
• What are clearly differentiable aspects of the product that we are trying to sell to the customer?
• How do we best communicate this particular aspect to our target customer?
• Who is our target customer?
Some group members may generate a ton of ideas—inspired either by the promise of getting their ideas heard or in a spurt of competitive energy. Some group members may not thrive under this time-pressured scenario, so don’t cast judgment. They may well prove their worth in the development and support of others’ ideas.
Not all ideas will be usable, of course, or worthy of extended discussion, but don’t dismiss anything initially, remember that is why you use questions that make you and your team think differently . The biggest impediment to creativity is having critics or skeptics in the room. The group will take its cues from you, the leader/moderator. Make it clear up front that all ideas are welcome—no matter how hare-brained or obvious or radical they may first appear. Those ideas may be the ones most easily missed—and perhaps most indispensable.