“Questions have this really amazing ability to be keys that unlock information inside of people that allow you to start establishing a relationship of trust.”

When someone shares an idea with us, what should our first instinct be? Do we go along with it? Do we ask them why they might think that? Or do we possibly tear it down? These are important factors to consider, because in order to be creative, a person needs to feel safe enough to share their ideas. In a recent podcast our cofounder, Chad Littlefield, spoke with Amy Climer who runs The Deliberate Creative Podcast to identify the relationship between trust, creativity, and powerful questions. Here are some takeaways:

1.) How do questions drive creativity?

Google’s “Project Aristotle” sought to pinpoint characteristics of the perfect team. The project found that amongst the innovative, high-performing teams, psychological safety was at the forefront of their success. In a nutshell, this means that people develop more creative solutions when they trust who they are working with (read more here).

Reasoning: Chad explained that really great questions and really deep listening help everyone in the situation to think outside of the box. Try asking questions from a different angle to stretch each other’s brain muscles.

2.) Stop asking “why.”

When asking questions to improve creativity, it is best to avoid starting with the question “Why?” While it is something that our brains seem hardwired to ask, it can stunt our ability to connect with others. Instead of asking, “Why are you late?” we can simply ask, “Is everything alright?” or “What happened?”

Reasoning: Asking why tends to make people defensive and confused. It forces them to come up with a simple answer for a possibly complex situation, all while not conveying that the other person genuinely cares about their well-being.

3.) Promote novel thought with “how” and “what” questions.

Questions can either be open, or closed. A closed question has a clear end. For example, “What is your date of birth?” only has one clear answer per person. Open questions on the other hand have a much more unpredictable and objective end that really make a person think. There is no precise or correct answer, and we are able to learn something deeper about who that person is rather than just the facts that are attached to them.

One of Chad’s favorite open-ended question to further unpack a conversation is, “What struck you about _____________?” Chad and Amy agreed that a question like this expands upon our worldview and allows us to creatively examine other perspectives. This question allows both thinkers and feelers to answer the question.

Reasoning: Asking closed questions from a singular perspective, we can direct them in a way that will only give us the information that we want to hear. In psychology terms, we are at a greater risk of falling victim to self-fulfilling prophecy.

4.) Flip on your natural, genuine curiosity.

One of the most important notes from the podcast: we must be genuine with our questions. Ask questions with the intention of truly understanding. Chad offered the idea and belief that curiosity is actually a choice.

Reasoning: Human beings are complex enough to recognize when someone cares about what they are talking about. Asking with genuine curiosity helps to establish a level of trust because they will know that you actually care. As Chad puts it, when we ask questions rooted in our genuine curiosity, the other has the opportunity to think, “I know I can be myself with you, and you won’t be a jerk to me.” Like the Project Aristotle suggests – without that judgement – a lot more is able to get done.  

It really is as simple as asking a question. In general, people will not remember the exact conversation that occurred, yet they will remember the feeling they had when they were around you. That is what counts. Asking powerful questions rooted in genuine curiosity helps to build a trusting environment where creativity can pave the way.

For more information on how to ask some awesome powerful questions, check out Will Wise’s new book, Ask Powerful Questions, or watch some of his tips on our YouTube channel.

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