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Chapter 3: Asking Questions

Overview

So, we've looked at what creativity is and what the major obstacles to creativity are. The next step, you might think, would be to jump in and start dreaming up solutions to whatever problem you might be facing.

Ah, but not yet.

If you're trying to generate new ideas in business-new advertising concepts, new product development, brand revitalization-you're dealing with very specific kinds of problems. You're not in exactly the same situation I found myself in when I was trying to concoct the world's most brilliant basement mural to outshine my sister. There are other people involved-clients and consumers-and finding a new idea is going to depend on how well you know these people. All energized ideas come from providing a fresh solution to a common, pressing problem. So the first step is to ensure that you know how your client/customer/prospect/consumer really experiences that problem and what it means to her or him. We need to experience the problem fully from these people's points of view, not from our own. That's where to start.

And before we go looking for answers, we left-brainers should be really sure that we've defined the questions correctly. Your consumers aren't thrilled with your new lemon-scented widget? Maybe you think you know why. Your market re- search seems to tell you why. But don't be too sure just yet.

Most market research is excellent at telling you what is (or what was yesterday) and how that compares to how things were earlier. This leaves it up to you to figure out what could be, what possibilities exist. Creativity is as much about framing the questions as it is about generating solutions (we're not going to say 'answers' because we're not addicted to finding answers-right?).

If you talk to the people you're selling to in a different, more generative way, you'll get relevant, energetic information that will be much more illuminating than the results of dry market research. Talking to people in this way is much easier (frankly) than sitting at your desk trying to think up something revolutionary by yourself, and it can lead to much more exciting results.

Everyone else's problems are your opportunities. Really. Repeat after me: Everyone else's problems are your opportunities to create innovative solutions.

Your ideas have to connect with the people you serve in powerful new ways if those ideas are to be successful. So do not start with the proverbial blank sheet of paper. There's nothing more intimidating and nothing more uninspiring. First, figure out whom you serve (or want to serve).

By the way, Bob Dylan was right. We all serve somebody. Whose issues do you care the most about? That's whom you should serve. So, once you've figured that out, I'll show you how to listen to those people in a creative way that will help you generate winning ideas. Get out and talk to people! That's where to start.


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