• Karen Zeigler

Can Repeating One Question Build an Innovative Culture? Yes, it can!

Updated: Jul 30

Innovative Culture through Inquiry

Can growing an innovative culture happen through asking one question, repeatedly? I have you thinking? I love questions! I know it's odd, but I do. For me, there's no greater compliment than to have someone respond with a pause, a nod, and a "good question". It lets me know that I have prompted them to dig deeper, to think about something they haven't considered, to set them on a path of possibilities. After all, that is what innovation is all about - unlocking opportunities that don't exist yet.

Like every challenge, it's essential to ask the right question. The wrong one will get you headed in the wrong direction. It comes down to focus. The right question will focus on your vision. The wrong one will focus you on your problem. Here's an example:

Wrong question: How do I solve (insert problem)?


Right question: How might I (insert vision)?

Successful innovation doesn't just solve a problem, it caste a vision for a better future. -Karen Zeigler

You may have heard the quote, "Where attention goes, energy flows." I don't know about you, but I want to work with fewer problems, not more. Of course, in crafting the vision, it is minus the problem and thus includes a resolution to the issue. I suppose this is why I am a design thinking consultant. Design thinking always starts with the vision question - how might we? And the process is universally applicable. From products to services to life, and yes even to creating an innovative culture. Even something as simple as this blog post.

Blogging from a vision question

Every blog I write starts with a question. Even this blog started with the question, "How can I help leaders create an innovative culture?" I didn't start with the problem, oh crap, I have to write another blog. Nope, I started with my vision - helping leaders create an innovative culture. In understanding it's a blog and not a full-blown leading by design project, I knew I needed something simple. So I let the question - how can leaders create an innovative culture simply and easily? - tumble around in my brain a bit. Then inspiration hit. I remembered something I had read about Sara Blakley, the founder of Spanx. Here's the quote:

"My dad used to ask my brother and me at the dinner table what we had failed at that week. I can remember coming home from school and saying, 'Dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible!' and he would high-five me and say, 'Way to go!' If I didn't have something that I had failed at, he actually would be disappointed." This dinner table tradition allowed me to see the value in failure. "My dad always encouraged me to fail, and because of this, he gave me the gift of retraining my thinking about failure," she explained. "Failure for me became about not trying, instead of the outcome."

The path of the simple question

This simple question (how have you failed?) regularly asked by her Dad put the trajectory of Sara's life onto a path of success. Sara has a long list of accomplishments that only begins to scratch the surface with:

  • 2012 Time magazine's "Time 100" annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world

  • At 41 she became the youngest woman to join FORBES' World's Billionaires list without help from a husband or an inheritance

  • Nominee for Innovator of the Year from the Shorty Awards

From selling fax machines for seven years at Danka (now Ricoh) to being a billionaire owner of Spanx is astonishing. But if you need convincing, this is a key to innovation, then feel free to do your research. Look into the failures of the greats of old - Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Telsa, and others. All because they embraced the question - how have I failed?