Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Creative Process: The Importance of Questions

Find the interesting ideas behind the trees
This post is another addition to my series on The Creative Process. We've looked at the conditions and the creative habit previously, and now we look at how important questions are. As James Thurber said:
"It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. "
When carrying out creative research work, asking yourself the right questions is key. Questions are the best tool for actually pointing out a lack in our knowledge. Wondering why certain assumptions are chosen is key to critical analysis of the literature.

Let's look at why you should challenge yourself to ask questions when you are carrying out your literature review or when you are carrying out theoretical work.

1. Taking away pressure

Although the end result might be the same, there is a difference in mindset when it comes -on the one hand- to just trying to figure out the answer to a few questions, because it's fun and you're curious, and -on the other hand- feeling the burden of having to come up with a theory.  

2. Breaking down a problem

Asking questions, and identifying what you need to know precisely and study in depth further is the key to problem-solving. While you are imagining you are only formulating questions, you are already moving towards the answer. If you make your questions precise, you already narrow down your search and identify how to get started on solving the actual larger problem.  

3. Identifying key points

Again, asking questions and defining what you still need to know, can help you identify key points. When you are doing creative work in science, you will have a few issues that need to be fleshed out. Issues for which you need to sit down and think deeply. But again, these issues fit into a larger framework. Formulating questions can help you those particular key points for which you need to unleash your analytical spirit.

And I challenge you - go and formulate questions!

1) Next time you read an article, do not only jot down your summary, but also come up with 3 questions you think need some further exploration.

2) Next time when you attend a presentation or lecture, try to form 2 questions in your mind. You don't need to raise your hand and actually ask them (which is another barrier to cross if you hate speaking up in public), but this exercise will stimulate your critical thinking.

3) Try to solve a problem by breaking it down in a set of questions you need to answer.


  1. I agree it is really important to ask questions but I think it is also important to ask the right questions. I found this resource really useful when I was formulating my research questions - http://www.sparc.bc.ca/the-art-of-powerful-questions

    I'd be interested to hear what you think,

  2. That looks very interesting, thanks for sharing! I might get back to that document and write a post about it after I've read it in detail :)


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