How to Make Ambitious and Inspiring Questions

Dad, Why Can’t I have the Picture Right Away?

This question was asked by a little girl on an afternoon in 1944. It was her birthday, and snapshots were taken. The father worked for Kodak, and knew all the good reasons she couldn’t get here picture right away. There were many good technical reasons for this.

But it was his daughter, and it was her birthday, so he didn’t give her the knee-jerk answer. Instead the question loomed with him – he couldn’t get it out of his head. The father was Edwin Land, and he eventually answered his daughters question by co-founding Polaroid. You may read a more complete version of this story here.

I have told this question numerous times, as an illustration of the importance of taking (seemingly) naïve questions seriously.

Powerful Questions

Fran Peavy was one of the great question crafters, and is the author of a “Strategic Questioning Manual”. She has a great metaphor to illustrate powerful questions:

Questions can be like a lever you use to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can. If we have a short lever, we can only just crack open the lid on the can. But if we have a longer lever, or a more dynamic question, we can open that can up much wider and really stir things up.  If the right question is applied, and it digs deep enough, then we can stir up all the creative solutions.

You may also find some useful insights in the article of Juanita Brown et al., in the article “Strategic Questioning: Engaging People’s best Thinking”. According to this article, some of the defining features of a powerful question is:

  • It is simple and clear
  • It is thought-provoking
  • Generates energy
  • Focuses inquiry
  • Surfaces assumptions
  • Opens new possibilities

You Can’t Make a Silk Purse out of a Pig’s Ear

There is an old saying, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear”, and in computer lingo we know the Acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) – the truth of these bon mots is that there is a correlation between what you seed and what you harvest.

If what you seed is ordinary, in all likelihood you will harvest ordinary stuff.

If we agree on the notion that the foundation of great ideas is great questions, then we should spend considerable time developing good questions.

Einstein’s citation on problem solving and questions come to mind here:

Einstein 55 minutes

A Simple Tool to Create Great Questions

I developed a simple tool for creating good questions, shown in the model below. In the original form it looks like this:

Ambitious and Inspiring Tool

You use the tool by starting in the lower left corner with an open question. Next, you produce a more ambitious version (move up), and a more inspiring version (move right). Finally, you create an ambitious and inspiring question in the upper right corner of the diagram. This is illustrated in the example below:

Ambitious and inspiring example

Then, the other day it struck me that all the time I have been trapped in the belief that “north-east” is the only worthwhile place to be, i.e. only the ambitious and inspiring questions are good, the other questions are only stepping stones on the way to question Nirvana.

And in some instances, that would be right. But sometimes the ordinary question is the one to go with, or the ambitious, or the inspiring. That depends on the problem at hand, and certainly also what kind of person you are.

Ambitious and Inspiring Questions Explained in 3,5 Minutes

In the video below, you will find a worked-out example, where I talk about how you can use Ambitious and Inspiring Questions as a starting point for generating great ideas.


In my next blog post, I will go into more details on how you can use our Ideku tool together with Ambitious and Inspiring Questions.

This is How We Can Help You to Create Powerful Questions

We have facilitated many innovation projects, which you may read more about in our Testimonials section. in all the services mentioned below, the formulation of ambitious and inspiring questions is an essential part:

  1. We can facilitate an Innovation workshop, leveraged by idea generation, idea maturation, and concept development using Ideanote.
  2. We can facilitate an Innovation Culture project, to create a long-term leadership commitment to innovation.
  3. We can run an INNOCULTURE game session with you, where you learn about how to create leverage in your innovation projects buy addressing the most important issues first.
  4. We can run Innovation CampsInnovation Events or Innovation Training, to kick-start and revitalise your innovation initiatives.
  5. We can create a FORTH Innovation project, with 8-12 selected participants, that create 2-3 mini business cases within 20 weeks.

2 thoughts on “How to Make Ambitious and Inspiring Questions

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