The art of asking questions

Alternatively, "Design Thinking Bootcamp" + why asking the right questions leads to better ideas.

prototype of the Minimalist Phone

false start

The word 'bootcamp' always gives me an image of something like an obstacle course. You're running as fast as you can, and then you come up against a wall and people are falling off trying to get over.

Well, pretty quickly, I found my wall.

I was interviewing my partner and I just couldn't find the right questions. It was frustrating. A little like relying on blind luck - that maybe, just maybe, I'd stumbled upon a story, or a hint at a problem to be solved. Turns out that's even harder to do under a time constraint.

How do you ask the right questions? Is there a predetermined series of questions that will magically reveal all? How do you know when something's a dead end, and when it's just that you're missing the right keyword that will resonate and bring forth a story?

Maybe those are the wrong questions too. But post-bootcamp, I'm thinking we generally underestimate the question as a tool for information. Or we misuse it. Worse, we don't listen (carefully) to the answers.

The design thinking process remedies that because the framework is not only forgiving, but also flexible in how you iterate.

the framework - credits: http://www.wmidstudio.com/approach


but why?

If you ask someone why they feel the way they do about something, they'll tell you. But in normal conversation (as opposed to an interview), it's common to accept the first response you get. The norm isn't to push. If you tell me you don't like driving to the grocery store because you hate parking, I implicitly understand and relate to you. I'm not going to ask you why you hate parking. But if I were trying to improve parking or the grocery store experience, I should.

Hate's a pretty strong feeling - that's something to be unpacked.

So with design thinking, you as an interviewer will go deeper, and in doing so, mine out new and surprising insights. That's pretty cool.

For example, I learned from my partner that she wanted to incorporate more minimalism in her life, but she still wanted to feel connected to her friends and family. It wasn't something I would have thought of addressing without interviewing her (and it definitely wasn't one of the solutions I sketched up during the 'false start' phase of the bootcamp).

A minimalist phone is not a particularly new or innovative concept, but I do think that it's something to explore. If I had more time to work with my partner through the design thinking process, the next iteration may be totally different but solve her problem better. And I really enjoyed using a low-res prototype to start a conversation for further understanding.

I'd also never have come up with my partner's solution to my problem:

a phone 'bed' that automatically cleans and charges your phone

We later learned something like this exists, but it's 1) expensive and 2) not that good. So maybe the tech isn't there yet. But the solution my partner described to me? I'd pay for it. It might not just be about fingerprints and phone sanitation. Maybe it's about personal health. Maybe it's about a digital hub by your bed. The thing is I can see the potential, and that excites me.

Neither of us would have come up with the ideas we did if we just accepted the first answer we heard. With the design thinking approach to questions, we get interesting insights - stories speaking to deeper attitudes, beliefs, and motivations - that in the end, lead to better ideas.