TATC Ep 14 – Questions To Spark Innovation

TATC 14 | Spark Innovation

Episode Summary

On today’s episode of Thriving at the Crossroads, we have a couple of mini interviews to find out what is it that you should ask to ask yourself, or others, to spark innovation? Scott Jancy and Paul Modderman share what question they ask, and I also share mine at the end. Spark creativity and innovation with these three simple questions.

Listen to the episode here:

TATC Ep 14 – Questions To Spark Innovation

Welcome to Thriving at the Crossroads. This is episode fourteen. I’m your host, Amber Christian. At the beginning of this year, I promised you I would take more time to be reflective on our topic of innovation and how we can improve ourselves. This is my first introspective episode of the year. I’ve been reflecting on this whole concept of innovation, creativity, transformation. I’m analytical. I’m very pragmatic, practical. I like things to be in logical sequences. A lot of people are this way. Sometimes it feels like this concept of being more innovative, being more creative is just one more task on our ever growing to do list. Not only are we architecting solutions and meeting business needs and then be innovative on top of it. Sometimes it feels like checking a box as opposed to a process and a way that we need to be in order to really embrace being more innovative.

Given I’m really practical, I’m an engineer at heart, how can I be more innovative? I’ve been reflecting on and thinking about projects that I’ve done in the past and asked myself, “What is it that we’re doing as we set the stage for those projects so that we create an environment that’s built with innovation?” Before you think that’s pie in the sky, remember I’m really practical. Today, I’m going to share three very practical questions that you should ask. I’ve got two guests that will each share a question and then I will share my final question. We’re all going to be answering, what one question do you ask yourself to spark innovation on a new project?


TATC 14 | Spark Innovation

Spark Innovation: Why are you doing this? What problem are you solving? What customer need are you trying to fulfill?

Here’s the first mini interview with Scott Jancy:

I’ve got Scott Jancy here to answer a very important question today about what one question you should ask yourself to spark innovation on a project. If you haven’t met Scott, Scott is a one man innovation shop. You can find out more about him at ScottJancy.com. Scott tell us, what one question do you ask yourself to spark innovation on a new project?

Thank you for having me, Amber. I would ask: why? Building on that, I would ask what problem are you solving? What customer need are you trying to fulfill? If you can answer the why question, that will give you a purpose to your problem solving. Answering why will also set you up for how you might proceed with solving a problem and then determining what steps need to be taken to get you there.


Answering why and what problem are you solving is our first key to setting the stage of innovation. Perhaps I’m being a little facetious, but why is that? I thought about Scott’s comments, I reflected on the temptation that often strikes on projects. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been on a project where the requirements or the business need was described to you as a solution. We’ve all been there. It’s often really tempting to look past why you need to do a project or what are the problems you’re having as opposed to saying, “This is how my solution should work.” I often find that leads you into a trap. Often times, I’ve had clients [00:00:53] what’s causing the need for the project in the first place. You’re really trying to get at that why and you have to keep asking why until you get all the way to the bottom. You might have to ask why three, four, five times in order to get there.


Next, we have Paul Modderman. Paul has a completely different take on what question you should ask when you start a project. Here’s my mini interview with Paul:

I have Paul Modderman with me, technology evangelist and author. If you haven’t read any of his stuff, you should go follow him on LinkedIn. I think you’d really enjoy it. Paul, tell us today, what one question do you ask yourself to spark innovation on a new project?

TATC 14 | Spark Innovation

Spark Innovation: If you had no constraints whatsoever, how would you accomplish this thing you’re trying to do?

Here’s what I do, and I wish I could remember to do this every time, but whenever we get the chance to actually sit down and do this, here’s the thing that gets that innovation actually happening. I ask people, if you had no constraints whatsoever, time wasn’t an issue, money wasn’t an issue, technology wasn’t an issue, how would you accomplish this thing you’re trying to do? What that does is I think it clears barriers to people thinking creatively about what they’re trying to do in their project. I’ve been there, I’ve totally been there. I’ve worked at a big company. I know how it can feel like it’s not your job to be creative, it’s your job to get your stuff done. Having the encouragement to be creative and think without practical limits, I think it gets people moving on actually being creative.

A lot of times, here’s what happens, I ask the question and then people fumble around a little bit and then somebody, and sometimes it’s me, but somebody will say something that’s actually off the wall creative and crazy. What happens then is other people feel encouraged to do the same thing. All of a sudden, you’ve got weirdo, random ideas flying around and stuff going on. Then in the middle of that, there are actual good ideas being laid out. You won’t think so because it’ll sound crazy in the moment, but they land on the table and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s the perfect thing right there.”

Let me give you an example. I was working with a customer, a big huge commodities company, and they have a mining division. We were working with them on how we can help some of the folks who works deep, deep underground in the mines do things to enhance how they report problems with their mining equipment, because there’s ton of equipment down there. We were ideating the stuff and one idea flew out and the guy said, “If I just had a copy of SAP in everybody’s pocket this wouldn’t be a problem, right?”

To him it sounded absurd to say that because we were in that for absurd idea phase. But given some of the newer technologies out there and what we can do with them, that whole thing is not as crazy as you thought it was. Because we can do things like offline data in the apps and have copies of all their different materials and equipment that’s on the phone. Even if these guys down the mine are not within a mile of a WiFi axis point, they can actually still do the work because the data is on their device. The guy had the chance to drop a crazy thing out there and then we actually got 85% of the way to his crazy thing with a real thing and then poof, great solution. It was just clearing creativity barriers from people I think is the value of asking that question.


TATC 14 | Spark Innovation

Spark Innovation: Do you have an elephant in the room that’s not being addressed?

Now, you have the second valuable question to ask yourself when trying to be more innovative on a project. What’s my take? What one question do I ask myself to spark innovation on a new project? I like to not only look at what people are talking about, but what they’re not talking about. My question is, what are few people talking about that we should be addressing? In other words, do you have an elephant in the room that’s not being addressed? Who hasn’t seen an asinine deadline or a crazy scope that’s just literally impossible, but nobody says anything because we’re afraid? The reality is, nothing will stifle creativity and innovation like massive time pressures or things that can’t be acknowledged on projects because it creates an environment of fear.

You really need to flush things out and get them on the table when you’re starting out and you want to be more innovative. You have to talk about these things. There isn’t a project out there that has every skillset that they need, but talk about it. Maybe you need to be more creative in the skillsets that are brought on to the projects. Maybe there’s overlapping ones, when there’s resource constraints, or maybe you just need to think differently about how you approach the work. For me, it’s really about looking for the unacknowledged issues and putting them on the table as fast as possible.

There you have three questions to ask yourself to be more innovative and to set the stage for creativity on your projects. Just to recap, the first one is: why and what are the problems you’re trying to solve? The second is: if you had no constraints, how would you approach this project? How would do it? Finally: what are few people talking about that we really need to address?

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. At this point, it’s your turn. I have the transcripts published for these episode and I would love to hear what you think. How do you do it? What other insights can you add that we haven’t talked about in the podcast today? I’m looking forward to hearing feedback from everyone who’s listening in and continuing the conversation. You can find us on my blog on ConsultAce.biz. You can also find it on my company page on LinkedIn for Ace LLC. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thrive on.

By | 2018-01-31T17:41:07-05:00 February 13th, 2017|


  1. Robert February 15, 2017 at 11:39 AM

    The no constraints question is great. One of the first great business lessons I got was from an old auctioneer and local entrepreneur in middle of nowhere Kansas named Franky Prince. He said that one of the hardest things in business is knowing how much things cost. This is even more difficult with abstract technology products and services.

    I also like to ask about stakeholders, what their goals are, how they will accomplish them, and how they intersect with the project goals. User empathy is too often forgotten when architecting projects IMHO.

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