November 7, 2008

Boost your creativity by asking questions

What is creativity?

It involves seeing a problem in a new light.

What are some ways to see a problem in a new light?

Ask yourself questions about the problem or the underlying issues.

When you're working on a long-term writing project, it's not uncommon to feel stuck in a rut. You can feel like your argument is stale and that you're not offering anything new. At that point, it may be helpful to try posing questions to yourself that jolt you out of that rut.

What got me started thinking about this was an article I was reading called "The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching, & Learning". The authors point out that thinking comes from questions: "Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues. Answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such." As they point out, "The art of Socratic questioning is important for the critical thinker because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought."

See the article for some extraordinarily useful hints that will help you apply the Socratic questioning method to your writing. For example:
  • Respond to all answers with a further question (that calls upon the respondent to develop his/her thinking in a fuller and deeper way)
  • Seek to understand–where possible–the ultimate foundations for what is said or believed and follow the implications of those foundations through further questions
  • Treat all assertions as a connecting point to further thoughts
  • Treat all thoughts as in need of development
I think this paragraph from the article mentioned above says it best (I added bold font and divided the question types with bullet points for clarity):
Deep questions drive our thought underneath the surface of things, force us to deal with complexity.
  • Questions of purpose force us to define our task.
  • Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.
  • Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information and to consider alternative ways of giving meaning.
  • Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted.
  • Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going.
  • Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view.
  • Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question.
  • Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness. Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific.
  • Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions.
  • Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together, to make sure that it all adds up and makes sense within a reasonable system of some kind.
The next time your writing is going around in circles, or you feel that what you're saying is trite or just not creative enough, get Socratic with yourself.