Andy Bailey is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Nashville and lead entrepreneur coach with Petra, a business-coaching firm. Andy also serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the scale-up movement. We asked him about his thoughts around innovation and the best ways to inspire it.

Very few companies I work with would list innovation as one of their top five strengths. In fact, most people struggle to find better ways to do things. They find comfort in doing things as they have always done them and never make a change. Sometimes that's OK--like in the case of a favorite family recipe. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Well, that's usually not the case when it comes to your business.

The challenge with stagnation in business is that eventually the "same ol' thing" is bound to make you--or worse, your entire industry--irrelevant. Think about that. Do you want to be irrelevant? Probably not. So how do you stay ahead of the curve? How do you make sure you're using innovation to stay relevant as a company? And how can you find the answers you need? Start by asking these three questions:

Why? The simple act of asking "why" will help you articulate any challenge before you ultimately understand it. Why does this challenge exist in the first place? Why do we see it as a challenge? Why has it not been addressed by someone in the past? Why does it happen over and over again? If you ask why at least three times, you'll start to get to the heart of the matter. Asking why is the first step on the path to innovation. Once you've drilled down on an issue and begun to understand it, it's time to think outside the box.

What if? I love this question because most often we start by looking at the negative side of every situation. We put all the "can't" answers on the table. Asking "what if" gives us the freedom to be creative with our solutions. What if we looked at this from someone else's viewpoint? What if we took ideas from other industries and applied them to this situation? What if we had unlimited resources...what would we do differently? What if we could solve this, and when we do, how would things look then? It's important to see possibilities and not limitations. Thinking first about what you can't do will send you right back to your old ways. Ask "what if" and innovation will find you.

How? Once you've run the gauntlet with "why" and "what if," it's time to ask "how." "How" questions have a tendency to lead you to action. How can I get this completed? How can I define the very first step toward a desire outcome? How would I do this if I had no constraints? Things that previously looked impossible might become reality once you take the time to really consider how you can make them happen.

In my experience, it's not the right answers we need in order to be innovative-- it's the right questions. Take the time to put this process to work in your life or business and you're likely to see results faster than you think. Why not?

Published on: Jul 7, 2016