Many business leaders who make a difference, and many with whom I’ve worked, possess a key skill: asking great questions. Doing so will greatly improve your innovation system. So how do we ask great questions?

You’d find it difficult to outperform the questioning ability of the average five-year-old. “Why is the sky blue? Why does green mean go? Why is the ocean salty?”

These questions and many more are asked constantly (and most of the time, repeatedly) to Mom and Dad, so basic questions are not hard to formulate. We just suppress them.

Here are two ways you can re-kindle your question-asking skills:

  • Question Everything

Questioning everything starts with the mind-set that everything can be improved. A friend of mine often states he has a “healthy disrespect for things as they are.” This a good start to developing great questions.

I also recommend reading Warren Berger’s book A More Beautiful Question. This will help you understand how to improve your questioning skills and how that will affect your life/business. Berger has multiple resources on his website and in his book about “beautiful questions.” He has a group of creativity-boosters called “Stop and Think.” For example: STOP solving the wrong problem, THINK about the problem beneath the problem — which bring us to our second questioning point.

  • Ask “Why” Five Times

In TPS-Beyond Large Scale Production, Taiichi Ohno emphasized the importance of finding the core reason why there was a problem. Most of us know that the first answer we get about why a problem happened is not the full answer. Even with five additional questions, you must state them correctly in order to get to the root issue. You’d be well-served to study Ohno’s work.

Utilizing the “five whys” method may look like this:

  • Why are our innovation projects behind schedule? We have too many projects for our resources.
  • Why are there not enough resources? We have new engineers who are struggling to keep up.
  • Why are the new engineers struggling to keep up? We are inefficient in our use of our engineering group.
  • Why are we inefficient in engineering? There’s a lack of training in efficient methods.
  • Why is there a lack of training? We do not emphasize training for engineering.

Aha! With this information, you’d immediately increase your emphasis on training for innovation systems, but if you’d stopped at the first question, you would have only looked to hire more resources. The use of the “five whys” gives you a great tool to ask great questions. Use it whenever you have a problem, and your solutions will be much more obvious.

Once you have the basics of the “five whys” understood and in practice, I suggest using the method I call “five up and five down.” You’ll use “five whys” to find the root cause of the problem, then add the answer to the question, “Why is this important to our business?” This will help your innovation group stay on priority projects for the betterment of your business.

When you use these methods, great questions will result in great innovation

How will you use these methods in your business? Please let me know by emailing me at and see more innovative ideas at the Fenestration Innovation Network on LinkedIn.

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