Sam Goldwyn is reputed to have said “Gentlemen, for your information I have a question to ask you”.

In my previous post I mentioned the research project into interdisciplinary innovation, especially the finding that some of the most radical innovation arises from interdisciplinary teams because they ask better questions.

Last week I worked with an interdisciplinary workshop to explore the innovations associated with new services and products being planned by a mobile telecomms company.  The focus of the day was less on answers than it was on questions.  Indeed the vast majority of the output was yet more questions – many of which the development team had not (yet) considered.  The scope of the questions was remarkable, a direct consequence of the cross-section of attendees, which included psychologists, anthropologists, social geographers and specialists in social networks as well as the usual suspects, engineers, computer scientists and interface designers.

After the workshop I structured the questions to make the material more accessible to the client (recognising that structuring immediately put only one of many possible patterns on the material).  Interestingly, the workshop raised some quite profound questions about the organisation’s strategy, its perception of the competitive landscape and its stance towards its customers.  There were also some interesting questions about the fundamental nature of the value propositions on offer.  I was interested to see questions arise about the nature of the organisation’s innovation process and, more importantly, its stance towards sources of innovation, especially in the fast-changing landscape of mobile telecomms.

So it was interesting, but was it useful?  The project manager from the client organisation said they should have asked such questions at the beginning of the project, while the lead designers said it was one of the most useful days he and his team had worked through in years.  And the organisation found new value in the humble question.