Visual Thinking Question Categories #2

This is part three of a three part series that breaks down how to use visual thinking questions to help you solve problems more effectively. Below you will find the links to each article within this series:

In the third part of the three part series of articles that break down visual thinking question categories, I will highlight eight more question categories you can use to help you solve problems more effectively as you move through the visual thinking process.

Please keep in mind that each of these categories is still a work in progress. At a later time I will provide you with specific visual thinking techniques and strategies you can apply to each question category. However, even though you don’t yet have the visual thinking framework in place, you can still use these questions to help you solve problems the traditional way.

9. Hierarchical Questions

These types of questions help you to sort items and pieces of information in a particular order of importance that is relevant to the problem you are facing.

  • What’s the most important factor influencing this problem?
  • What is the next most important factor?
  • How is this more important than that?
  • How can I structure this information into a hierarchy of importance?
  • How can I visualize this?

Application

Use these questions to help you prioritize different pieces of information. This will help you to manage the process of finding a solution more effectively. The clearer you are at this stage, the better decisions you will make as you work towards a solution.

10. Probing Questions

These types of questions are repeated over-and-over again in order to drill-down to ever deeper levels — helping to unlock patterns and causes that you originally may not have been aware of.

  • How else?
  • What else?
  • Where else?
  • Who else?
  • When else?
  • Why else?
  • How can I visualize this?

Application

Use these questions to dig under the surface of an existing problem or issue to help unlock structures, patterns, and clues. Continue asking questions until you uncover inner layers that will provide you with new and unique insights that were not visible on the surface. The clues you find here will lay down strong foundations that may very well lead to intuitive hunches and possible solutions.

11. Transformer Questions

These types of questions help you to see things from alternative perspectives and angles using analogies, lenses and other techniques. They are in essence creative questions that can help you distort, modify, adjust, rearrange, alter and twist the problem you are confronted with on its head. In fact, they are very effective with helping to break down existing assumptions.

  • How would I approach this problem if I was Steve Jobs?
  • What if this wasn’t really a problem but rather an opportunity for change?
  • How can I rearrange this in a new and unique way?
  • What could I eliminate that would give me a new perspective of this situation?
  • How could I combine things in a unique way that could lead to new insights?
  • What could be achieved if I removed this component?
  • How can I visualize this?

Application

Use these questions to explore possibilities and test hypothetical relationships between different pieces of information from a variety of perspectives. They can also be used effectively to help you discover unique insights and make more effective decisions about the problems you are facing. There’s a wonderful array of techniques we could use here. All of them will be discussed at a later time.

12. Coaching Questions

These types of question help you to generate new insights and perspectives by using stories and narratives as the basis for the discussion. I call these coaching questions, because they are some of the most common questions used throughout a life coaching session. They help clients open up and discuss intriguing possibilities that often weren’t considered before.

  • Tell me about a time when this wasn’t a problem?
  • Tell me about a time when this was a bigger problem than it is today?
  • How can I visualize this?

Application

Use these questions to generate conversation and dig a little deeper into the problem. Moreover, look for clues within the conversation — clues that will help provide you with unique and useful insights that might not have been evident before. The clues will often be subtle and hidden. Therefore you must keep an open mind and a keen ear at all times.

13. Foresight Questions

These types of questions help you to predict and prepare for future circumstances by identifying key trends, patterns and other elements that may help you to make better decisions in the present moment.

  • How are things likely to change in a month, a year, several years down the track?
  • How will my industry look a year from now?
  • What will my customers want a year from now? What problems will they have?
  • Will this solution be a viable option in the future? Or will it need to be modified?
  • What are the real costs of implementing this solution years down the track? Is it worth it?
  • How can I visualize this?

Application

Use these questions to help you identify possible trends and patterns that may unlock future insights that are relevant to the decisions you are about to make in the present. As you visualize these questions, be sure to differentiate between cyclic and linear change, and between soft trends and hard trends.

14. Strategic Questions

These types of questions help you to adjust your direction as you work through the problem using a variety of visual thinking techniques and strategies. The questions will help you to stay focused on your goal, yet flexible in your response to changing conditions and circumstances.

  • What should I do next?
  • Given this new information, how must I adjust my course of action?
  • What technique would be most useful and effective here?
  • What are my options, and where will they take me?
  • How must I adjust my course of action in order to find the solution I’m after?
  • If I did this again a little differently, what other courses of action would be available?
  • Where do I go from here?
  • How can I visualize this?

Application

Use these questions to help you stay on track and moving forward towards a solution to the problem you are facing. If it doesn’t appear as though you’re making much headway, then simply ask these questions to help you adjust your course of action to point you back in the right direction.

15. Skeptical Questions

These types of questions help you to identify pitfalls and additional problems that could potentially result from solving the problem under question. As you work through these questions, keep in mind that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, all at once, at the worst possible time when you least expect it. 😉

  • What other problems could result from solving this existing problem?
  • What is the fatal flaw in this idea?
  • How many ways is this likely to fail?
  • What is the drawback to this way of thinking?
  • What are the risks?
  • How can I visualize this?

Application

Use these questions to help you pinpoint flaws in your ideas, the potential risks, and the likely problems that could arise if you implement your solutions. By mustering up the courage to ask and genuinely answering these questions, could very well save you a lot of time, money and emotional energy down the track as you continue to work towards a solution.

16. Limiting Questions

These types of questions don’t help you at all. They continuously lead you down irrelevant paths that waste your time and cost you money.

Because these questions are very specific to the type of problem you are dealing with, it’s difficult to provide an example. Therefore just be wary of questions that tend to move you through a never-ending cyclic loop that leads you around the path to nowhere.

It’s easy to fall prey to these questions because they lull you into a false sense of confidence that you’re actually making progress — but all you’re doing is beating down the same path over and over again.

These limiting questions have close ties to unhelpful thinking styles or habits that we commonly hold onto.

How to Visualize Your Questions

Within this series of articles, I didn’t attempt to show you how to visualize all these questions and categories, but rather to clarify the process that a problem solver or visual thinker works through as they attempt to find solutions to the challenges they face on a daily basis.

In the end, it’s all about asking the right kinds of questions that will help lead you down a path towards clearer insights that can be visualized to find effective solutions to the problems you are facing.

In a future series of articles I will break down the questioning process in finer detail and outline how to visualize specific types of questions using a variety of visual thinking techniques and strategies. In other words, I will present you with specific visualizations you can create on paper that will help provide you with direct insights to the questions you are asking yourself as you work through a problem.

I hope you gained value from this series of articles, and took away enough information to begin incorporating these principles into your business and life.


Everything you read here is part of ongoing research and experimentation within the visual thinking arena. The goal is to create a comprehensive framework for visual thinking that encapsulates creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Your comments, ideas and suggestions are most welcome.