Imagine a sea of ideas. The ideas floating and bobbing in the waves. Suddenly there is a big hole in the sea, and the ideas come rushing in - there in the cavity, the ideas bounce and jump and mix and merge. That's what a conversation is, a place where ideas can mix and mingle - a space that creates a free zone for interaction.

You can create this conversation space by asking a great question.

What Makes a Question Great?

Here are some of the questions to ask yourself while shaping your question into a conversation starter:

  • Is this question relevant to the real life and real work of the people who will be exploring it?
  • Is this a genuine question — a question to which I/we really don’t know the answer?
  • What “work” do I want this question to do? (What conversation, meanings and feelings may this question evoke for people?)
  • Is this question likely to invite fresh thinking/feeling? Is it familiar enough to be relevant—and unique enough to be special?
  • What assumptions or beliefs are embedded in the way this question is constructed? Are my or others views biasing the responses that will follow?
  • Will this question generate hope, imagination, engagement, action, and new possibilities? Or will it a focus on old stale issues?
  • Does this question leave room for new and different questions to be raised as the initial question is explored?

How to Find the Right Question?

One way is to simply stack up the questions. This approach arose when three colleagues were trying to figure out the central question that would catalyze their 150 invited guests. The large group who was arriving had diverse needs, wide experience and seemed to be joining for different reasons. The host's task was to bring people together – so they started asking questions.

What’s the topic? Why are they joining? What makes joining valuable?  What value do the participants bring? What does valuable participation look like? What questions do you bring to this forum? How are the questions you are asking impacting you? How could this forum answer your questions? Which questions motivate you to carry on? What motivates you to be in this community? How is your community experience changing? What would need to change for you personally to make empowerment and motivation a daily reality?

The Flow of Questions
Each person in the small team added a new question – listening to the previous one and offering a slightly more profound one. They did not critique the questions, they simply added new questions until the questions began to be more meaningful. After a dozen questions, they started writing down the most relevant ones. They tested out them out with peers and made adjustments to make the questions more personal and universal – making an invitation for conversation.  The technique is explained in this 5 minute video:


If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” —Albert Einstein

Stimulating Ideas & Building Futures