Can you name 10 different uses of a hair dryer? If you have come short of that number, you might need to ask some more questions to wring creative juices out. Once you have, you might have actually come up with a number way higher than ten.
What made companies which were under the radar disrupt the market with mind-blowing products we no longer imagine our lives without? What made Ryanair become the airline with the highest load factor in consecutive years within the past decade? How did Airbnb shake the foundations of the well-established hospitality industry and compelled hoteliers to rethink their offerings?
Their founders asked questions that unearthed so far unmet needs in the market. They drilled through stacks of facts that confirmed the status quo and saw opportunities to innovate through asking disruptive questions.
It all starts with a question
And it should not be just any question. Albert Einstein claimed that out of one hour given to solve a problem he would spend a fifty-five minutes looking for the right question. This statement is quintessential to what is needed to come across the right answer.
The most common question I heard within the past, and surely in many months to come, was – how do we increase sales during an economic downturn? The most frequent, immediate response was – drop the rates! Wrong questions lead to bad decisions. However, questions such as: who our clients in this changed landscape are, what if we did not ask them to pay right away and instead split their payments in installments, what would happen if we offered the menu on the clients’ phone instead of handing them an old fashioned paper menu – to name a few, encourage to take a fresh look at the surrounding environment, pose questions that challenge the current state and open door to investigation.
Disruptive in this case stands for simple yet defying. Conducive to perspective-changing outcomes. Bold, provocative, and often uncomfortable. Disruptive questions have these traits in common to inspire innovation, lead to astounding discoveries which can be turned to successful turnarounds, a new product or service launch or change the way we see the reality altogether.
From descriptive to disruptive
When asking questions, we often end the probing process at getting to know the status quo. But this is just the beginning of the road to uncovering the reasons to poor demand, slowing growth or unapparelled attrition. To find out how we can remedy an unfavorable situation, “what if” questions do the trick.
What if we offered the same payment conditions as superstores on household goods for those who book their holidays now? What if the cancellation policy allowed clients to cancel last minute with no penalty? If one answer is not satisfactory enough, the same should be asked from different angles – why are customers not buying, and why not offer them something different? This will open the door to many options you deemed inconspicuous.
No frill airlines must have posed questions regarding onboard service- what if the meal and drinks were excluded from the ticket fare? Following the same path, budget hotels would think, what if the guest made his own bed?
Set no time, money, or room limits
When limits are imposed, we focus on several outcomes of one hypothesis. Those type of questions companies specializing in onsite tourist activities needed to pose when the ais traffic came to a standstill and social distancing was imposed and must have been of this sort – if people can no longer travel, how do we bring those activities to their homes? And this is how an array of alternative solutions came up, the world moved online, and we could still taste the fruits of Latin America or pay a virtual visit to Tokyo.
When no boundaries of any nature are set, the imagination can bring ideas which would otherwise not crop out. Some restaurants must have asked themselves during the pandemic- what would happen if we could no longer print out menus, how would the customers see what to order? Subsequently, the menu was available on their mobile with scanning QR code available on their tables. Contactless, environmentally friendly, safe, and efficient, the solution hit the bull’s-eye.
Some creative havoc may occur as a result of lack of constraints on ideating solutions but undoubtedly this is a great way to let the imagination fly. A great example is a question we get to be asked when enquired about professional aspirations, who would you be if you did not have the job you have today? This question might be quite revealing, might prove to be awkward, but that’s why we should not shy away from asking it more frequently.
What’s in it for us?
Disruptive questions are meant to challenge the old ways of seeing the reality and overturn the known paths of thinking. They help build new roads to competitive advantage, to improving people’s life, to uplifting revenues of ailing companies. Coupled with observation and experimentation they have the power to set the business on the growth path or bring about significant changes to the way we have seen things so far. So, if you were not who you are today, who would you be?