Inquisitiveness by Design, Beautiful questions not just beautiful answers

Carrots-Ask-Me“If you look at 4 year olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions.”

This is quote from Professor Hal Gregorson of the business school INSEAD, in a new Harvard Business Review article titled, “How do Innovators Think”. The author Bronwyn Fryer is discussing the findings of a a six-year study, conducted by Gregorson and Professor Dyer of Brigham Young, surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews. During this study they found five “discovery skills” that distinguish them.

They list these skills as,

Associating – The ability to link seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas

Questioning – The ability to ask, “what if”, “why”, and “why not”

Observation – The ability to see details, especially the details of people’s behavior

Experimentation – The interest in “trying on new worlds and exploring new worlds”

Networking – The ability to network with other smart people who they may have little in common with

Professor Dyer suggests that the most important of these skills is “associating”, “because new ideas aren’t created without connecting problems or ideas in ways that they haven’t been connected before. The other behaviors are inputs that trigger associating–so they are a means of getting to a creative end. They end with the suggestion that the sum of all these skills is fundamental “inquisitiveness”.

One of the things we as package designers must always do is keep asking questions, not just creating beautiful answers. It makes you wonder whether the best creative presentations, and frankly the best creative development processes as a whole, might be the ones that ask the most beautiful questions of our clients, and not just show them what we think are the the most beautiful answers. The final solutions might be richer and more surprising.

On a personal note, I think that is what this blog is doing for me. It keeps the inquisitive tool sharp.


Photo above is from the the Davis Food Coop web site.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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