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How to Use 'What If' Questions

Systematically asking good questions is a fun activity, whether you do it alone or as a game with others. It also provides some good mental exercise, and it can lead to some great theories and inventions. Let's look at a few examples of how you can do this as a way to give your brain a workout and for generating creative new ideas.

The process can be as simple as this: Start the questions, anywhere and anytime. Turn on the television, for example, and watch the news while asking what if questions. When a report on unemployment comes on, you might ask, "What if there was no unemployment?" "What if unemployment was a good thing?" "What if everyone was unemployed?"

Each of these questions suggests different ideas: Could there be almost no unemployment? Maybe a government could guarantee employment by hiring anyone who loses their job, but at wages just low enough so the employees would eventually find a way to work in the private sector again. Hiring people in place of the usual more expensive employees could make this viable as far as the cost goes.

Could unemployment be good? It might provide the time necessary to take an intense training course that prepares one for a better job in the future. Or it could be an opportunity to start a business that requires more time than capital. In either case this makes unemployment a good thing.

Why would everyone be unemployed? Technically there would be no jobs if we all were in the business of selling our labor. If we were paid as business owners -- even for typical work like waiting on tables -- it could change our thinking and make us all more independent. We might all be unemployed (by others) but more productive than ever.

By the way, as I have mentioned in the newsletter more than once, I really do use these techniques, and they have paid me well. An e-book I wrote wasn't selling well, and I asked "What if I gave it away?" I won't get into the details of what I did next, but I did start giving it away and soon I was making three times as much money with it as when I was selling it.

When you ask a "what if" question your mind gets to work find a way to make sense of what you are asking. So if you ask, for example, "what if I could make money by talking to people," you're immediately looking for ways that could be true. Consciously you might ponder why people would pay to hear you talk, how you could sell such a service, what you have to say that is useful to others, and so on. But even if you consciously move on to other matters, you'll sometimes later have an idea pop in your mind.

There is a lot going on underneath the surface of our conscious mind, and good questions are a way to stimulate and direct creative thinking and problem solving at a less-than-conscious level. Here are a few what-if questions to exercise your mind...

What if you could make a living working four hours per week?

What if we elected politicians without knowing their party affiliations?

What if vacations were free?

What if cars cleaned the air instead of polluting it?

What if you could learn a language in three weeks?

What if vegetables grew like weeds?

If you ask these kinds of "what if" questions enough, and ask them every day over a period of weeks, the process should become habitual. That will make you a more creative thinker. Of course, most of the ideas this question suggests will be silly or worthless, but that's just the nature of many creative ways of thinking, and it isn't a problem. In the end you can simply produce a lot of ideas and then pick through for the good ones.

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