What if… a simple question could spark your creativity?

Some people have difficulty using their imagination. This is often caused by their job, in which they are stimulated to use routine, analytical thinking and critical thinking. Of course, these people can have surprising ideas, just like everybody else. All they need is a little stimulus to tune in on the creative part of their brain. And for this, a simple ‘What if…’ question is often more than enough to get the creative juices flowing.

What if questions are a great way to spark people’s imagination. You can use them as a warming up exercise, but you can also apply this type of question directly to your challenge. The power of What if questions lies in the fact that you can use a silly scenario as a creative starting point to generate ideas from. Often these mind bubbling questions lead to fresh insights and wonderful new ideas.

You can use all sorts of What if questions to get people thinking. Questions like:

What if…

  • you would get a thousand new clients in 1 day?
  • all your employees started working for your biggest competitor?
  • you would merge with your biggest competitor?
  • your main supplier would go bankrupt?
  • your most talented employees would leave you?
  • a new startup starts giving your core product away for free?
  • your customers are no longer interested in your main product?

How the technique works

The What if method is easy to use.

1. Generate a ‘What if…’ question
You can pick one randomly, or the facilitator can choose one that best fits the challenge.

2. Generate answers
Try to make a connection between your What if… scenario and your existing situation.

Look at your What if question and ask yourself:
What would happen if this were to occur?

3. Generate ideas
Use your answers to generate new ideas for your challenge.

Imagine that your challenge is to strengthen the team spirit of our department.

Step 1. Generate ‘What if…’ questions
You could use What if… questions such as;

  • What if… we had a million dollars to spend on the solution?
  • What if… all our clients would leave us?

Step 2. Generate Answers:
What would this mean for your challenge?
These scenarios can lead to answers such as;

  • What if… we had a million dollars to spend on the solution?
    • We could hire a personal assistent for every team member (to lighten the work load)
    • Our company event could be a ‘trip around the world’ with our entire team
    • etc.
  • What if… all our clients would leave us?
    • It would create an urgency to work together (We would be in this troubling situation together)
    • We would all be out of  a job
    • etc.

Step 3. Generate ideas
Use your answers to discover creative ideas.

“We could hire a personal assistent for every team member”
The idea of a ‘personal assistent’ can lead to ideas such as;

  • A digital team platform where people can share what they’re struggeling with (so colleagues can suggest solutions, or jump in to help them out)
  • A marketplace where people can trade time, projects and skills so the overall team can work more efficiently
  • etc.

“Our company event could be a ‘world trip’ with the entire team.”
The idea of a ‘world trip’ could lead to more ‘practical’ suggestions such as:

  • A ‘world theme’ based company event. Exploring different cultures with your collegeas (Japanese food, Indian dance, Chinese theatre, American art etc.)
  • A company event as a trip around the ‘worlds’ of your colleagues, hosted by the team members themselves (a bbq in your manager’s garden, a wine tasting at your secretary’s living room…)
  • etc.


If you want this technique to be tailor-made, you can also choose to create your own list of What if questions. Simply generate a long list of What if questions with your team.

Ask every participant to generate his or her own creative What if questions. Set approximately 3-5 minutes for this first step. Ask participants to write each What if question on a separate index card. When the time’s up, collect all cards, shuffle the cards and pick one at random. Read it out aloud, and ask all participants to use it as a stepping stone to find creative solutions. Try to make a connection between your What if scenario and your existing situation. See if you can extract a principle or find an interesting insight to work on. Repeat the process until you are satisfied with the results.

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Elegant solutionswaarom makkelijk doen als het moeilijk kan? Make your challenge more challenging