Exploit constraints to innovate
In the run-up to the 2006 Le Mans race in France, car manufacturer Audi was grappling with how to make its vehicle more competitive.
The natural question executives and engineers were asking themselves at Audi was: “How can we build a faster car?”
Then one engineer flipped the question around and asked, “How could we win Le Mans race if our car could go no faster than anyone else’s?"
Turns out that framing the question this way was what was needed for Audi to innovate and develop a competitive car, the R10 TDI. How did this happen?
The question forced the automotive engineers to question all their previous assumptions.
Win the race
They realized that for the car not to go faster than any other car but still win the race, it had to make fewer refueling stops. And, for this to happen the car had to manage fuel more efficiently. Solution? Audi opted, for the first time, to put diesel technology in the cars that were entered in the 2006 race. It was the innovation that made the T10 TDI go on to win the next three consecutive races.
This is an example of what has come to be known as a propelling question; a question that has a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together. The presence of those two conflicting elements can’t allow the question to be answered the same way it has been answered before.
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Propelling questions trigger people to think in new ways and therefore unlock innovation opportunities.