Confession: I’ve always felt more comfortable facilitating a brainstorming session than participating in one. It’s not a control thing, it’s just that I am more wired to identify problems to be solved and tapping into the energy and creativity of others who are more inclined to rapidly generate big ideas. And like many (moderate) introverts, I am more comfortable doing idea generation on my own than in large groups.

The cover article in the March-April Harvard Business Review entitled “Better Brainstorming” presents an interesting use of questioning as a brainstorming tool. Briefly, the approach developed by author Hal Gregersen challenges a small group of participants to rapidly generate questions – not solutions – related to a challenge. He argues that this approach encourages more participation and broader thinking; because participants aren’t committed to a particular stance, they feel freer to surface more substantial and diverse considerations. And, he claims, “80% of the time, this exercise produces at least one question that usually reframes the problem and provides a new angle for solving it.”

Gregersen acknowledges that this runs counter to how we are brought up: “Questioning is an innate human behavior that’s actively subverted and systematically shut down” (using the example that we are rewarded for answering questions in school, not asking more questions). And he also cautions that more senior leaders may struggle to refrain from demonstrating their expertise and authority in a question-generating session. Both of those challenges must be addressed and managed by the facilitator to ensure a good outcome using this technique.

But with those cautions in mind, this is powerful approach I am adding to my toolbox. Have a big challenge on your plate? Let’s ask some good questions together.

HBR article: