• The Editor

Incisive Questions

Garbage in means garbage out.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

When we're trying to solve a creative problem, we're essentially trying to find answers to one or more questions. Consciously or not, we use our tried and trusted methods of inquiry as we dig for solutions. So our brain falls into familiar patterns of thought. The line of least resistance. The brain's lazy like that.


We ask the kind of questions we're conditioned to ask. Our mind knows the formula, so it can't be bothered to think any different. Hence why we're likely to keep coming up with samey ideas.


Newsflash: you need to ask yourself different questions.


I first encountered 'incisive' questions in Nancy Kline's book, Time to Think, which was given to me by a very good friend. At the time, I’d just started mentoring someone, while simultaneously dealing with some difficult problems in my own life. Quite the combination. Time to Think helped me see how we often don't ask ourselves, or other people, the right questions to reveal any decent insights.


We assume that by asking the questions we've always asked, we'll somehow get different answers. But as Albert Einstein pointed out, doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity.


So what's an incisive question? It's rooted in the notion that we make assumptions about situations without even realising it. And quite often these assumptions aren't remotely true. Then we go and ask questions with our assumptions baked in, and wonder why we end up with predictable answers.


The five incisive questions are designed to get around this problem:

  1. What am I assuming that is limiting my thinking here?

  2. What am I assuming that is most limiting my thinking here?

  3. Is that assumption true?

  4. What is a liberating true alternative to the limiting assumption?

  5. If I knew (insert true alternative), what would I think or feel or do?


An example of how I applied this was when I wanted to plan Faster Ideas and start batch-writing rough drafts of the blog. At the time I was on a contract that required me to be at my desk in The City of London 9-6pm, with an hour commute each side. I needed to perform physio exercises for my various aches and pains for at least an hour, 3 times a week. I also had to host a podcast, as well as edit it. Plus my creative partner and I always have joint projects that need a lot of attention in our spare time.


When the eff was I going to have time to write this too?


So I asked myself the incisive questions:


What am I assuming that is limiting my thinking here?

That I don't have enough time. That I'm too busy.


What am I assuming that is most limiting my thinking here?

That there aren't enough hours in the day. I'll be too knackered. I'll have to write it all in one go, which will take several hours.


Is that assumption true?

Probably not. I tend to stick with things if I make them routine. I could just write a little bit each day - it's a blog, not War and Peace.

What is a liberating true alternative to the limiting assumption?

I could write a little bit during the few spots in my day which I know are currently being wasted on non-essential crap.


If I knew (insert true alternative), what would I think or feel or do?

If I knew I could set aside time I'd otherwise use for idling, I'd feel confident I could do this.


When I realised this, I quickly figured out that in the morning, before/after the gym, when I'd be having breakfast at a cafe near work, there was a major chunk of phone-scrolling time that I could ditch in favour of planning out this blog.


Definitely non-essential time. So for this 15-20 minutes, I would write. Or more often than not, I would still utilise my phone - this time by using the speech to text function, to talk the blog into existence. I had my subject list to work to, which I gleefully ticked off each day and noted the word count.


It wouldn't be my best writing - and I might get scrambled egg on my devices - but it would get the first drafts written. I could finesse and edit them later in the year.


And here we are. Week 8 of Faster Ideas, 20+ blog posts in.


Oh, and if you didn't get my opening reference, read here about garbage in, garbage out.




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