“There are two kinds of decisions: those that are expensive to change and those that are not.” –Robert Townsend

In a framework for non-profit strategic planning, David LaPiana has constructed a roadmap (see picture below) that steps through the major phases of a cyclical strategic planning process. One salient aspect of this framework that is applicable in situations ranging from long-term strategic planning to everyday problem solving is what LaPiana calls “Big Questions.” Asking “Big Questions” can exist in a variety of forms but one in particular is a brainstorming session.

– David LaPiana

What goes into asking “Big Questions” and Brainstorming at RDW Group:

  1. Preparation: Prepare questions that reframe the situation. One example is using what Forbes has termed “Disruptive” Questions: “They usually begin with “how,” “which,” “why” or “if” and are “specific without limiting imagination.”
  2. Background: Provide a concise overview of the problem to allow people without knowledge of the situation to make meaningful and targeted contributions. (Example: SWOT Analysis)
  3. Participation: Find individuals from different teams/departments that are both familiar and unfamiliar with the subject material to participate.
  4. Materials: Supply teams with appropriate materials. Sticky notes and pens can do the trick. These materials should provide a means to record ideas in an efficient manner.
  5. JUDGEMENT-FREE ZONE: Collaboration is easily hindered by negativity and close-mindedness so keep an open mind to even the most outlandish ideas.

These ingredients are the backbone recipe for conducting a brainstorm session but what does this process actually look like? In one brainstorm session seeking fresh promotional campaign ideas, the leader of the brainstorm broke up participants into small groups and provided typed questions on small pieces of paper. Participants separated into teams based on people who they didn’t frequently work with to create small yet diverse teams. Each small group chose a question at random at the beginning of each round and responded amongst themselves to collaborate on responses. These responses were transcribed onto sticky notes and shared by a spokesman from each small group. These sticky notes were categorized by the question type on a white board to record ideas. The combination of small group collaboration responding to prepared questions created a large variety of new ideas and solutions.

The underlying element of asking “Big Questions” is critical thinking. Being able to step back from a situation and ask questions in the vein of, “How can we improve this process? Or, Which external factors could inhibit this event?” is the heart of real-time planning. Each new question dives into a deeper level of the situation and unearths other questions that may have otherwise gone unasked. Asking the right questions and seeking new ideas will help reduce the amount of decisions that are expensive to change and increase the amount of those that are not.