Question: How many Art Directors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Answer: Does it have to be a lightbulb?
It’s a joke of course, but it's worth asking the question for the simple fact that you might come up with a different answer had you never asked. One of my favorite things I learned in architecture school is that once you ask the right question, you're well on your way to finding the answer.
Innovation is the quest for new answers to solve existing problems. As a professional on a creative or problem-solving track, one of the tools in your chest is your ability to find answers, or ways to improve a situation. The more ideas you can generate to test, the better chance you have at finding a good solution.
One of the best tips I've learned to enhance question-asking skills is to invert the problem. e.g. if you're trying to do something faster, think about what could make it slower. If you're trying to make one thing bond to another thing, ask what will make it more repellant. You may not get the answer directly from the question, but you will have a very strong opportunity to look at the problem from a different perspective. And that is one of the conditions necessary for innovation to occur.
David Robinson is the Creative Director of Birch Studio, a design, branding and software development firm in Charlottesville.