By Suzanne Gibbs Howard
May 19, 2016

When you’re a leader, you won’t always know the answers. Your team won’t, either. That’s why leading with curiosity is so important: It encourages the creativity you need to find a solution when you’re facing the unknown.

Asking questions is one of the best ways to cultivate a curious mindset. Here are three ways you can use questions to be a more creative—and more effective—leader.

1. Use questions to get teams unstuck
Many of us have been in meetings where we hear a lot of, “We can’t do that because…” It is typical for people to assume they know their business and industry constraints so well that they can’t imagine it any other way. New ideas get killed before they have a chance to be considered. Questions can help teams think beyond known constraints.

Ask:

“If cost were no issue, where would you take this?”

“What other industries have a similar challenge? How do they deal with it, and what can we learn from them?”

“Constraints aside, what would make us proudest?”

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2. Use questions to help teams make their ideas a reality
When teams have a creative idea, it can be hard to move from what the solution could be to what it should be. In this moment, you want to help teams learn which ideas have true potential. It will also make it clear which ideas they can let go of.

Ask:

“Can you sketch or outline five solutions you are most excited about?”

“Which of these feel most new-to-the-world? Which already exist in some way?”

“If this project were to be handed off to a team to implement tomorrow, what three things would you want them to focus on?”

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3. Use questions to encourage holistic thinking
Many times, people focus on only the parts of the solution that are of interest to them. Questions can help you guide team members to think about all aspects of the solution.

Ask:

“How is this meeting the needs of all our customers (not just the ones who favor this feature)?”

“Let’s zoom out to consider other stakeholders. What would they say about this?”

“Let’s imagine 10 situations where this will be used. How well would this work (or not) for each?”

Suzanne Gibbs Howard is a partner at IDEO and dean of IDEO U. For more on leading with a curious mindset, check out IDEO U’s course, Leading for Creativity, which begins May 18.

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