Tips on how to frame a powerful How Might We... question

Using How Might We questions is a powerful way to encourage creative thinking to generate innovative solutions to your most pressing challenges, This blog provides a guide to help you frame your own How MIght We question to achieve the innovation you are looking for.

Okay so you have read why, as a leader, you should use How Might We…? and you’re thinking great… how do I frame my problem then?  

It’s like having all the gear and no idea how to use it. Well, rest easy, in this blog I will cover some of the things to consider and provide some examples. 

Firstly, it is important to keep in mind why we are using How Might We - it is to open the mind, create curiosity, look for multiple opportunities, encourage everyone to get involved and share ideas. Now, let’s look at the various steps to take to help you frame your How Might We question. (HMW)

Problem to Question

When we create a problem statement, it generates negative energy and is just a statement. However, changing it to a question opens the mind and encourages people to answer the question. We cannot answer a statement such as: 

We can’t connect online as well as we do in-person?

Because it's just a problem statement - it doesn’t encourage anyone to look for solutions.  It restricts thinking and can become a perception that will influence our decisions. If we change the problem into a HMW question such as… 

How Might We utilise the capabilities of virtual meetings to connect and collaborate even better than before?

This question encourages people to explore the different capabilities of the platform. Looking for multiple solutions to the virtual workplace. This can then change the perception of what and how virtual meetings can be used within the organisation. 

Generative and Positive Opposite 

The question you ask should be stated in a way that creates positive possibilities. Too often we just phrase problem questions to fix things that restrict our thinking and move us to restrictive solutions. 

Making the question generative opens the mind and reduces the constraints on the thinking. It creates more positive and creativity energy, which releases chemicals that improve thinking and creativity.

As an example, I was talking to someone who was thinking of starting a membership site. They wanted to introduce a monthly and annual pricing policy; however, they were afraid people would join for a month download the content and then cancel their subscription. The question they were asking was:

How can I stop people joining, downloading and cancelling after only paying for one month?

All his thinking was around restrictive practices, such as limiting the number of downloads per month. My suggestion was to ask… 

How might we create value, so people won’t want to leave?

This question was based on generating positive solutions. It provided the opportunity to review the whole experience, rather than narrowly looking at the downloads only. 

He then came up with more benefits and content creation, which provided value above and beyond the downloadable content. This created a better experience, increased reach and improved membership loyalty.

Balancing Act 

The HMW should provide enough guidance so your team/group know where to start and provide enough freedom to explore multiple potential solutions. Look at your initial HMW and think about the direction and type of solutions you are expecting.

Does your initial HMW only encourage people to think one way or generate one or two solutions; if so, then it is too narrow and needs to be broadened.  If your HMW question does not give enough guidance and/or is confusing about where to start, then it needs to be tightened. 

This balancing act can take some time to practice and may produce various iterations of your HMW until you are happy. Taking the time to craft the question is time well spent, as it will provide the springboard for the creation of multiple solutions to solve your challenge.  

A leader is looking to monitor employee's attendance, or work time.  An example of a narrow HMW could be… 

How might we use an application to monitor how long my team members work?

This is very specific and limits the thinking to the use of an application. An example of how to broaden the question could be: 

How might we reimagine management?

This example is very broad, there is no indication what area of management or the reason management needs to be reimagined. A more structured example could be

How might we reimagine the way we manage performance of our remote teams?

This is specific enough to provide guidance and why, opening up to multiple solutions for this challenge; which, in light of the current situation, is relevant. Go ahead and start reframing your problems into your very own How Might We...? questions. 

Or jump on a call with me to discuss your challenge.