Skills that Last a Lifetime – “WHAT IF


“WHAT IF?” It is the question of innovation. I have served young people in K-12 education. I witnessed that innovative spirit every day. One of the most curious and consistent demonstrations of this spirit has occurred at nearly every school in which I have served. Walk into any middle school boy’s bathroom, look up to the ceiling, and you will likely see little globs of toilet paper stuck to the ceiling. Ahh, the power of the “WHAT IF!” While I do not condone the destructive behavior, consider the thought process. “What if I take a small amount of toilet paper, add water, and toss to the ceiling?” “Will it stick?” “What will it do?” “Will it do it every time?” “Does the ratio of toilet paper and to water make a difference?” Questions create innovation.

We are examining Qi Skills proposed by Dr. Laura Jana. This blog will address the “WHAT IF” Skill. [For an introduction to Dr. Laura Jana’s Qi Skills, please visit the introductory blog in this series]

The Qi Skill of “WHAT IF” compliments the other QI Skills, especially “WHY.” “WHY” helps us learn about how the world around us works, “WHAT IF” envisions the world as it could be. Dr. Jana highlights several strategies that teachers and parents can utilize to foster “WHAT IF” Qi Skills in young people. Business and industry will need these skills to meet the rapidly changing workforce needs.

“The Creative Adult is the Child that Survived.”
Ursula LeGuin

Seek out open-ended toys

This can start young! I mentioned Legos in the “WIGGLE” post. Yes, we bought the predesigned sets like Star Wars, however, the sets were quickly dismantled as new conceptions were envisioned and built. The two most common open-ended toys in our home were Legos and Duct Tape . . . yes, Duct Tape! The creations included sea-worthy ships and a 7-foot, double-sided of a USA flag.

Praise ideas

One of my favorite leadership quotes comes from General George Patton, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” In our context, we could modify this to say, “Listen to what our children say and encourage their pursuit of bold ideas, then they will surprise us with their ingenuity.”

Ask thought-provoking questions

As we listen to our children and their bold ideas, we can strengthen critical thinking skills by asking great questions. As a parent, I discovered that I ask too many questions that could be answered in one word. “How was your day?” “Fine.”  I had to learn to be unique in my questions. “What was the most unexpected thing that happened today?” “Explain why your bold idea is important to you.”


Whether you call it media time or screen time, limiting the time your child connects to their phone, tablet, or other devices can open the door to a creative quiet. It also allows you time to hear your child’s bold ideas and ask some thought-provoking questions. Of course, this requires that you unplug too!

Let them be bored

One summer, my wife asked my boys to create an “I’m bored” jar. With an empty peanut butter jar and popsicle sticks, she asked the boys to brainstorm activities to do if they got bored. Each idea was written on a stick and placed in the jar. If one complained that he was bored, he needed to draw a stick and do the activity on the stick. I have no recollection if a stick was ever drawn, but I do know that each learned to explore, create, and innovate in the quiet of boredom.

Take the path less traveled

My dad always had alternate paths to work or to visit family. Through this, I learned to explore! Seeing new things broadened my perspective and prompted more questions. We still live in an age of exploration. The horizon is explored through the “what ifs.”


Jana, L. (2017). The toddler brain. Boston: Da Capo Press.