Leadership Lesson: Business stale? “The Spirit of Inquiry” rebirths creativity

Published in the Phoenix Business Journal on October 5, 2018

Why? Small children will ask “why?” – and sometimes another “why?” to the answer. This is a primary way that kids learn. Adults, too. We want to know the answers to many questions. The spark to inquire is ignited by an inborn curiosity about the things around us. Wanting to know the unknown.

The same inquisitive mind works the same way in business. What is that? What does it do? How does it work? Where did it come from? What works and what does not? Who uses it? Why?

“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.” – Sir Ken Robinson, researcher, author

The tinkerer

Ideas that result in creative output – products, services, processes, messaging, and more – are born out of curiosity. Here are some notable examples:

In 1974 a 3M engineer, Arthur Fry, witnessed an failed adhesive project. Fry tried some of some of the sticky stuff to glue a note in a book. Later it was removable easily. The idea became a major product. 3M Post-It Notes. 

In 1975 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, worked for the computer game company, Atari. Both saw the new MITS Atari single-board “do it yourself” computer. Woz hooked up a keyboard and TV display, Jobs saw Woz’s inquisitiveness, and this birthed Apple.

In 1876 Thomas Edison, a master tinkerer,” formed Menlo Labs. He spawned over 1,000 patents, and spun up the electric light bulb (after 10,000+ experiments), the broader electrical system grid, movie projector, phonograph, and more. 

These and millions more useful ideas were born out of “The Spirit of Inquiry.” 

What inquiry questions to ask?

Many business questions can be categorized by area:


What is the single most important thing to accomplish today? Write this down on a highly visible note at the beginning of every day and complete it before anything else.  

What do you need to make it happen? This creates a shared responsibility to provide the resources required to achieve a goal. 

What is the next step (or what are the next steps)? The way to keep things moving forward. 


What is the potential upside? Whenever there is a new opportunity, the answers to these questions are essential. 

What are the risks and what would we do if they occur? What is the worst that could happen? Given that things can fail, identify them and determine what actions to take if they do misfire - including stopping. 

What do you think? Asking others for their inputs is critical so that they can be heard and valued, and more often than not some useful ideas will emerge.


What are our values? When we know them and think, speak and act according to them, we are more authentic and energetic. 

How are you perceived that you do not know? Find out what others really think of you, good or bad, so that you can improve. 

Who or what did you make better today? By knowing we gave of ourselves we can sum up our day at sundown and rest well.

One of the greatest questions ever, “What are we pretending not to know?”

The bottom lines

Curiosity. It is the business primer that invites us to find out more – inquisitiveness. We use questions based in: why, how, what, where, when? We mentally tinker and ideas form. We physically tinker and products form. Ask 3M, Apple, and a light bulb.

Click here to read this article on the Phoenix Business Journal site.