It was the early 1970’s. 8-tracks, pet rocks, and waterbeds were all the rage. The Jackson 5, Led Zeppelin, and Bread were playing on the radio. And Irish Spring from Colgate-Palmolive, with its green stripe of freshness, was top of the soap charts. Meanwhile, the marketers at Procter and Gamble were working hard trying to create a copycat product with it’s own green stripe of freshness.
After several failed attempts, creative manager Min Basadur suggested that his team at Procter and Gamble weren’t asking the right questions. Instead of asking, “How can we make a better green stripe bar than Irish Spring?” he asked the question, “How might we create a more refreshing soap of our own?”
This led the team to explore other themes of freshness including that which comes at the seacoast. From this came the coastal blue and white striped soap named “Coast.”
Min Basadur went on to become a consultant who has taught the concept of How Might We to companies over the past four decades. The question is key in what has become known as Design thinking, which is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions.
Here are some steps we can use to help us better understand the question of How Might We?
Step 1: Define the area you want to explore, whether it is a current problem or an anticipated problem.
Example: This meeting is going to be boring.
Step 2: Reword the statement into a “How Might We?” question.
- How suggests that we do not yet have the answer. It helps us explore a variety of possibilities instead of acting on what we suppose the solution should be. It pulls us out of inactivity and helps us begin thinking.
- Might emphasizes that our responses are only possible solutions, not the only solution. It also allows for exploration of multiple possible solutions instead of merely settling on the first that comes to mind. It allows for any idea to be brought to the table, no matter how outlandish.
- We immediately brings in the element of a collaborative effort. It suggests that the solution lies within our collective teamwork instead of within one person’s influence and creativity.
Example: This meeting is going to be boring…How might we make this meeting interesting?
Using How Might We questions helps us take a negative statement and turn it into a positive question which helps us find a solution.
Step 3: Use brainstorming techniques to come up with as many solutions that you and your team can imagine to your How Might We question.
- We might make the meeting more interesting by involving the attendees in discussion?
- We might make the meeting more interesting by utilizing visuals in the presentations?
- We might make the meeting more interesting by limiting the length to one hour?
Step 4: Prioritize the best ideas, build on them, and work them into next steps, sometimes involving their own How Might We questions.
Example: How might we actively involve the attendees in our meeting in interesting and lively discussion?
How Might We? is a question which can help simplify and bring clarity to almost any problem. Granted, it might simply bring more questions to the table, but most often, those questions are relevant questions.
So, next time you encounter what seems to be an unsolvable problem, try developing it into several How Might We questions. If you do, you’ll suddenly be thinking from a positive viewpoint, pointing yourself towards solutions instead of dwelling on the negative problem.
* For further study on How Might We, including the full story of Coast, see The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use article by Warren Berger from Harvard Business Review.