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Timing is everything, and spring is the time to sow these seeds of innovation.

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Asking the right questions can help innovators work toward a solution.

The most effective questions to ask are
Why, What if, and How, in that order, as they help advance through three critical stages of problem-solving.

Asking "Why" questions helps understand the current problem,
"What if" questions explore possible solutions, and
"How" questions focus on practical action steps.

The inquiry cycle can be seen in many innovation stories, such as the invention of the Polaroid instant camera, where Edwin Land asked why, imagined what if, and figured out how. Game-changing "why" questions can come from anyone, and asking "what if" leads to alternative possibilities, which are the seeds of innovation. The hard work of giving form to ideas and figuring out how to test and refine them is the action stage of inquiry-driven by practical questions. The Why/What if/How questioning sequence is not a formula, but it can help innovators distinguish between questions that work best at early stages and those better suited for later, more focused stages.



  1. Netflix founder Reed Hastings wondered why I should pay late fees for Blockbuster video rentals?

  2. Pandora founder Tim Westergren speculated, What if you could map the DNA of music?

  3. Airbnb founders asked, What if you could connect people needing a room with those with a spare room?

  4. Nest founder Tony Fadell questioned, Why hasn't someone improved the thermostat?

  5. Square founder Jack Dorsey asked, Why can't individuals accept credit cards?

In each case, these innovators asked a game-changing "why" or "what if" question that led to the developing of a new product or service.

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When innovating, there are other essential questions to ask that can help guide the process and ensure that the innovation meets the needs of your target audience. 

Here are some of the most important questions to consider:

  1. What problem am I trying to solve?

  2. Who is my target audience, and what are their needs?

  3. What current solutions are available in the market, and how can my innovation improve them?

  4. What are the potential risks and challenges associated with my innovation, and how can I mitigate them?

  5. What resources do I need to develop and launch my innovation, and how can I acquire them?

  6. What is the timeline for development and launch, and how can I ensure I meet my deadlines?

  7. How will I measure the success of my innovation, and what metrics will I use to track progress?

  8. How can I obtain feedback from my target audience to ensure that my innovation meets their needs and expectations?

  9. How can I continue to innovate and improve upon my innovation over time?

  10. What are the ethical implications of my innovation, and how can I ensure that it aligns with my values and the values of my target audience?

By asking these questions and taking the time to answer them thoughtfully, innovators can create both practical and sustainable solutions over the long term.

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