Creativity, Innovation and the Mind-set

to Ask Questions

This article is a sort of sequel to an earlier article on Curiosity.


Curiosity, or the thirst to know more, naturally leads to questions to be asked. Such questions, when answered, should lead to more questions and also to something creative or innovative.

In fact this has been established in a reverse way by three Harvard professors Dyer,  Gregersen and Christensen after lot of research studies undertaken by them. They have summarized their findings in the  book “The Innovator’s DNA” (see the cover page picture above). Their studies essentially focused on qualities which distinguish successful innovators and creative people from the rest. They have found that there are five habits which are to be found among the innovative people. The traits are

1.       Observing
2.       Questioning
3.       Associating
4.       Networking and
5.       Experimenting.

I consider the first two to be basic and the most important in the list.

Observing is different from just seeing. It is akin to “reading between the lines”. Keen observation facilitates deeper insight giving birth to questions which perhaps are not asked before. Asking questions should be a freewheeling activity with no inhibitions. The three authors have observed that Questions to Answers ratio is higher among successful innovators. In other words innovaors put questions which don’t have obvious answers.

Creative ideas spring from three class of questions. They are WHY?,  WHY NOT?  and WHAT IF? . The questions WHY and WHY NOT complement one another.  For example the questions “why are the rear wheels driving ones in cars” and “why not the front ones” have led to the development of in-line engine car models. Similar questions have led to the development of Volvo buses which have engines located at the rear side. There is no dearth of such questions. One can ask, for example, why the kitchen utensils mostly round shaped and why not square. The question is very pertinent because the storage efficiency of square shaped vessels is higher than of circular vessels. In other words more utensils can be stored in a given volume.

The other category of questions spring from “WHAT IF” perspective. Here, one will remove the existing constraints or introduces non-existent ones. In this manner one creates imaginary situations and  arrives at solutions. Such approaches are creative and lead to new inventions.

To quote Charles Steinmetz, the father AC power transmission, “there are no foolish questions and no man becomes a fool until he stops asking questions”.

Professors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen have also arrived at a significant finding that creativity is not an in-born or genetic trait unlike intelligence. With the proper mind-set anyone can become innovative. The foundation for this proper mind-set has come from a questioning attitude. Most importantly, parents can groom their offspring to become more creative and innovative.

More By  :  Dr. KS Raghavan

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Comments on this Blog

Comment Dear Navin, You are right. Organizations need to encourage and foster innovations. The major concern, however, is our educational system. From elementary school to undergraduate level the emphasis is memorizing and writing tests and examinations.There is little scope for original thinking. Most pitiable perhaps is the degree level engineering curriculum.The syllabus and courses need to be reviewed and revised.

07-Aug-2014 10:24 AM

Comment Dear Dr Raghavan, in industry (specially during recessionary times) one finds a lot of talk to become innovative. It has come to my notice that culture of training probably kills innovative spirit. This is probably because training emphasises to accept things as they are and discourages questioning. May be culture of training needs to be reviewed. It may be relevant to have a formal study of training practise of highly innovative institutions.

06-Aug-2014 21:07 PM

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