Innovation Soul Food? Irritation!

Seriously!  You know when you have an idea for a new business, product, service or process and you tell someone and they pick it apart? They tell you all the reasons it won’t work.  You get really really peeved and annoyed and say to yourself, “They just don’t ‘get it’.”?  Frustrating isn’t it?

Last week, I was privileged to tag along with the Oberlin College Enterpreneurship Scholars on their trip to NYC visiting “Obie” alumni.  These kids were at different stages of developing or executing their businesses.  The alumni gave their own stories and then critiqued the kids’ plans.  It was interesting to see what the kids listened to and what irritated them.

It’s so easy to turn someone off when they disagree with you; “They just understand the real needs; they don’t know that market; they don’t see it on the ground like I do.”  Sound familiar?

One of the alumni told the kids to stop and think about what is really irritating them about the advice or suggestions.  Great advice!  So, when you are getting feedback (which may be criticism) on your idea, instead of turning that person off, stop and think about what it is that really bugs you about their feedback.  By analyzing what is really bugging you, you can hone your passion and purpose behind the idea. 

This week, find people who are great irritants (shouldn’t be too hard for some of us!).  Share some of your ideas. While they may view your cup as half empty, they just filled it up half full for you! Give it a try and tell us how it goes!

The Art of the Dumb Question

When I was a child, my parents always answered a question with an answer that led to another question. So early on, I learned to just keep asking questions.

It drove my teachers nuts (don’t get me started on education!) and drives my husband nuts (like that’s the only reason!).  Just to bug my husband further, I’ve taught our kids to do the same thing!  Despite this annoying habit, it’s served me pretty well in my career, learning a lot (much of which I can’t remember) along the way.

This leads me to propose that the transformation of the 20th century into the 21st be the Age of Answers to the Age of Questions.

While answers are important, it’s more important to know what questions to ask to get to the answers. The lack of questioning is part of what got us into the mess of the last three (or more) years. We learn by asking and using that knowledge to ask a different question.

Which is why I offer you the Art of the Dumb Question.

I’ve been told one of my “gifts” is the ability to ask very dumb questions! I’m honored, seriously, and owe my parents a debt of gratitude. Dumb questions are very important, especially for innovation.

Why? (no pun intended) Because dumb questions challenge the status quo.

  • Dumb questions test basic, tacit assumptions.
  • Dumb questions make us stop and think about fundamental truths.
  • Dumb questions get to the core.
  • Dumb questions can make the AND vs either/or possible.

Last week, I was with a client for their annual global businesses’ growth strategies to ask dumb questions. They are wise in recognizing that they are too close, too knowledgeable, too ingrained in their industries and environments to be able to step back and ask dumb questions. Even when I was starting my own carve-outs and businesses, I always asked someone to come alongside and ask me the dumb questions.

As your organization pursues the innovation journey, who do you have to ask you the dumb questions? Who is your Dumb Questioner (DQ)?  And, as you think about it, to who can you be a DQ? Who can you serve and help by asking dumb questions?  Don’t worry, it’s not hard to do, and it’s very rewarding!