The Most Important Question In Any Project

Here’s the simplest advice I can give you about how to succeed with a creative project.

“Ask “What if…” as often as possible.”

Ask it of yourself, your collaborators, customers, and audience. Use it to shape what you create, how you create it, and how you present it.

If you do, your chances of success will rise. Here’s why…

It’s a great way to start a project.

Generating ideas isn’t complicated.

Get in the habit of asking yourself “What if” as often as possible in your day-to-day life and you’ll discover valuable ideas you may not have considered before.

The question forces you to think about things in new ways and identify possibilities to create projects that provide value to others.

It forces you to think bigger.

When you have an idea for a project, continuing to ask “What if” drives you to think about it in a deeper way.

It leads you to explore what’s possible and pushes you to move beyond the easy, obvious version of the initial idea. It pushes you past the surface level to reveal what makes it unique — and valuable.

It removes assumptions.

We all have assumptions about anything we work on — a set of rules that govern what it can be, how an industry works, what people want, what we’re capable of, and what success looks like.

But repeatedly asking “What if” forces us to question those assumptions and reveals many of them to be untrue.

Success is often found by removing existing assumptions and asking “What if” is a great way to do so.

It’s a powerful follow-up question.

The more you ask “What if,” the more you’ll get out of it.

The flexibility of the question makes it as valuable a follow-up question as it is an opening question.

The deeper you get into your concept or project, the more you should ask the question. You’ll often find the third or fourth time you’ve asked it reveals exponentially more valuable answers than the first.

It’s a better response than “No.”

“What if” is also a great question to ask of the people you work with on a project — especially if their initial ideas are not what you’re looking for.

Responding to other people’s suggestions with a “No” is counter-productive — it’s more likely to squash creativity and momentum than to push it forward.

By contrast, responding to someone else’s idea — even a bad idea — with a “What if” question propels the project forward in a positive direction. It keeps the other person engaged in the process and makes them feel a part of its eventual success.

They’re no longer a person whose idea was shot down — now they’re a person whose idea helped lead to the ultimate path you chose.

It has no wrong answer.

“What if” is the rare question that has only right answers.

There is no wrong when the goal is to consider other possibilities, even if those possibilities don’t ultimately work.

The point of “What if” isn’t to solve a problem — it’s to generate more ideas that might. That’s a powerful question.

It’s a great way to end a project.

As helpful as it is to ask yourself “What if” when in the early stages of a project, it may be even more beneficial to do so when the project is complete.

As you review the success (or failure) of what you’ve created, examine what might have happened had you done things differently through a series of “What if” questions.

What if the project was marketed differently? What if it was designed differently? What if it was priced differently?

Asking “What if” questions about a completed project is a great way to analyze what you’ve done and spark ideas for how you can improve on it the next time around.

It completes the circle…and starts it over again.