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When a colleague suggests a new product or idea, and you're trying to understand it and how it works, a typical response is to bombard the other person with questions. What features would it have? How much would it cost? Where would we market it? Who would be responsible for it? Who would buy it? Why would they buy it? And so on.
Asking questions like these is a valuable way of understanding the new idea, and of challenging it to ensure that all of the relevant aspects of it have been considered before any work begins on implementing it. To get the most out of this approach, it's important that the questions asked are systematic and comprehensive. After all, there would be no point identifying every feature and the intended customers of a new product, and starting to manufacture it if you haven't asked how you would bring it to that market.
So it's worth going through a comprehensive, systematic questioning exercise every time you explore a new idea. The Starbursting technique is useful way of going about this.
Starbursting is a form of brainstorming that focuses on generating questions rather than answers. It can be used iteratively, with further layers of questioning about the answers to the initial set of questions. For example, a colleague suggests a new design of ice skating boot. One question you ask might be "Who is the customer?" Answer: skaters. But you need to go further than this to ensure that you target your promotions accurately: "What kind of skaters?" Answer: those who do a lot of jumping, who need extra support, and so on. This would help focus the marketing, for example to competition ice dancers and figure skaters, rather than ice rinks that buy boots to hire out to the general public.
How to Use the Tool:
The best way to see the power of this simple but effective technique is to think of a product, challenge or issue to work on, and follow these steps:
Download our free worksheet and print it out or take a large sheet of paper, draw a large six-pointed star in the middle, and write your idea, product or challenge in the centre.
Write the words Who, What, Why, Where, When and How at the tip of each point of the star.
Brainstorm questions about the idea or product starting with each of these words. The questions radiate out from the central star. Don't try to answer any of the questions as you go along. Instead, concentrate on thinking up as many questions as you can.
Depending on the scope of the exercise, you may want to have further starbursting sessions to explore the answers to these initial questions further.
Figure 1 below shows some of the questions you might generate in a short starbursting session on the skates mentioned above.
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