What you focus on matters

What you focus on matters

As I’ve written before, when it comes to creativity, ‘quantity leads to quality’. The reason for this is simple: the first ideas you come up with are generally ‘logical’ and not very creative. They might be fine, but the first ideas are typically somewhat boring ideas most people could’ve come up with. The more ideas you generate, the more unusual they will become. Some of these unusual ideas will be ridiculous and completely impractical (for now), but others might be innovative and absolutely brilliant.

Because you want as many potential solutions as possible, it makes sense to approach your situation from different angles. There are many ‘creative thinking techniques’ to help you do this, but you could also simply look at different aspects of the challenge itself. By phrasing your focus question differently, you will look at your challenge from completely different angles.

Let’s look at an example. Imagine, you work in a very noisy open office. You hardly get any work done as you are constantly distracted by people calling, walking around or discussing their weekend near your desk.

You could focus on changing the office, …but you could also direct your attention to changing people’s behaviours.

You could focus on the cause of the problem (and how to eliminate it), …but you could also focus on yourself (and make sure the noise doesn’t distract you).

The questions you ask determine what types of ideas you’ll get

The focus you choose determines what solutions you will generate.

If you focus on the office, you might install sound-proof walls or even complete conference rooms. Or you could simply look for a different office altogether. If you focus on your colleagues’ behaviour instead, you might introduce an office policy to only speak at certain hours or to only call in a designated area. If you focus on what’s causing the problem (phone calls and people wanting to share their weekend stories) you could suggest blocking phone reception inside the building or an informal coffee meeting every Monday morning before work. Finally, if you focus on yourself, you might eliminate your own distraction by buying noise-cancelling headphones or by starting to work from home.

The bottom line is: there are many aspects of a situation to focus on. Based on these aspects, you can generate a whole range of possible focus questions. What you focus on determines what types of ideas you’ll generate.

Starting with multiple questions is always a good idea. Write down a bunch of questions and pick the questions that immediately spark ideas. See where they lead you. More questions generally means: more ideas. In our own creative sessions, we often use 5 to 12 different focus questions. This ensures a broad range of creative ideas to choose from.

In the example above, some possible questions you could ask are:

  • How can I make sure I stay focused during my work?
  • How do I make sure the noise isn’t bothering me?
  • How can I make sure I don’t hear my colleagues call?
  • How can I make sure I always work in a quiet place?
  • How can I make my office a quiet working space?
  • How can I reduce the noise in my office building?
  • How can my office help me concentrate?
  • How can I make my colleagues be quieter?
  • How can I stop my colleagues from calling near my desk?


Some helpful questions to ask yourself when defining focus questions:

Coming up with several focus questions isn’t hard. Just write down all the questions you can think of and select the ones that are clear and immediately spark ideas. When looking for the right focus it helps to ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • What is causing the problem? How can you eliminate this cause?
  • Why is this a problem? What are the consequences?
  • What does the ideal situation look like? What is needed to get there?


Other helpful articles for finding the right focus:

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