Questionstorming is a brainstorming technique that focuses on generating as many questions as possible around a particular issue. The idea is to fully scope out an issue through questions rather than seeking immediate answers.

The technique can be used in a variety of settings, including problem-solving, strategy development and innovation. By asking lots of questions, you can gain a deeper understanding of the issue, uncover assumptions and biases and generate new ideas and perspectives all without looking for answers.

How Does it Work?

To conduct a Questionstorming session:

  • Turn off all phones, remove other distractions and set a time limit.
  • The facilitator first asks the group to clearly define the issue at hand. Without a clear focus, the questions may potentially lead you off in random directions rather than circle back and around the issue at hand. Feel free to spend time on ensuring there is consensus as to what is being explored. It should be a short simple statement: Sales are lower than expected.
  • The facilitator then encourages participants to ask questions and to build on each other’s ideas. The idea is to generate as many questions as possible, without any concern as to possible answers. The facilitator ensures that all the questions are recorded in some form (either by the person asking on a sheet in front of them or ideally on a communal whiteboard).
  • When the group begins to run dry, the facilitator goes through all the questions, opening the closed questions and closing the open ones. For example, the closed question “Are prices too high?” might become “How might price be a factor?” The closed question suggests a limited set of possible answers (and hence other questions), while the open question encourages exploration of various factors even beyond pricing. The group reflects on these questions to see whether they trigger anything new.
  • The group then picks out the top questions that seem worthy of further exploration. Nevertheless, my sense is that it is worth preserving all the questions in some form (photo….).

Question Writing Variants

Group work has certain issues including group dynamics and bandwidth. Group dynamics means that people may self-censure and bandwidth means that only one person can really speak at a time. Possible options to mitigate both issues are to:

  • Invite everyone to work on their own for say 10 to 15 minutes, writing down as many questions as possible. Once the time is up, the facilitator can go around the room, asking each person to share one question at a time, which can then also be opened / closed. Any new questions that come up in the process can also be noted down.
  • Agree the starting statement a week in advance and get everyone to do the first stage of questionstorming on their own. They can send their questions to the facilitator in advance and the questions consolidated and presented to the group to stimulate further exploration. Names don’t necessarily need to be associated with questions to ensure everyone feels free to propose any question and nobody is biased against any question.

Questions in the Image:

  • What represents a good question?
  • What is a good question supposed to achieve?

Want to Read More Around this Topic?

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger (link to Amazon.co.uk). This is a fantastic book for anyone looking to bring more questions into their life. It also briefly covers Questionstorming, amongst much else.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. As we engage with questions it can be easy to think “good question” / “bad question” and yet How can we tell? We can tell if a question is effective – obtained the information we were after or offered a moment of insight – and yet every question serves some purpose even if it only in conveying information about the person asking it. For example, I struggle with binary questions – Would you like tea or coffee? Asking me what I would like to drink feels more effective as I can still politely decline. And yet, it tells me a lot about the asker including that they are thinking about my wellbeing.

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

How Might Tom Help?

  1. My first invitation is to take maximum advantage of the free content on this site, including signing up for my newsletter.
  2. I also endeavour to answer every email so if you have any queries do reach out – you will find my address if you are curious. Your future self will thank you!
  3. If you would benefit from a face-to-face conversation, consider signing up for a Decision Coaching package (initial call plus follow up call).
  4. If you feel you would benefit from a chat without having to sign up for decision coaching, click on the button below to join the waiting list for the opportunity to speak face-to-face. No charge! You just need to make a case as to why we should speak.