How Might We…


This magical phrase has completely changed the way I look at a problem! The single greatest mind shift in all of the methods, tools, and processes I’ve learned about resides in these three words, “How Might We…”. The words aren’t “How Can We…” or “How Should we…”, these words are specifically selected to inspire creativity and innovative solutions. “How Might We…” implies whatever you come up with… might not work… and that’s OK! The phrasing helps guide the team into asking the Right questions to tackle their biggest challenges.

A Bit of History,

Developed by Proctor & Gamble in the 1970s, popularized by IDEO (The prolific innovation and design firm), and now you see it mentioned in SPRINT by Jake Knapp (Brilliant process & Highly recommend!) and the Harvard Business Review in “The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use“. IDEA breaks the phrase down: “HOW” assumes there are solutions out there, “MIGHT” means when we test ideas they might work and they might not, and the “WE” says we’re going to build it together. The “we” may be you and the customer, or it may be the full team, but innovation is a journey best traveled as a group.

Here are some Great Additional Resources,

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

So How Does This Work?

As previously stated, the psychology within the phrase is intentional and is best used after some initial research into the problem and building a source of empathy feedback from people this challenge impacts (This can be learned through employing the “Voice of the Customer” tool). Once you’ve built a notebook of insights on the challenge, begin asking “How Might We…” to various aspects of the insights towards generating many problem statements.

For this tool, I will be walking you through a pitch competition called “The Flipping Finance Challenge” by Indiana Bond Bank, where this tool was successfully deployed in defining and solving a challenge.

Gary, IN provided various challenges and the below three led into my “How Might We…”

  • Becoming a “Smart Region” & National Transportation Hub
  • Matching Housing Stock with Targeted Populations
  • Manager Preserve & Maintain Nature Ecology While Growing

When developing a “How Might We…”, I am a BIG fan of utilizing white boards and sticky notes – pretty much any surface commandeerable for ideation is utilized – and abbreviate the phrase with HMW… placed in the top left corner of each brainstormed problem statement. (I often write HMW by mistake, but it lightens the mood). This will save lots of time and ink, because you’re expected to write it a lot! The below photo illustrates my thought process on building problem statements using HMW.

Sticky Note Storm – Understand Any of This?

The process began with the poster on the left. As insights are generated from empathy and challenge research, any opportunity or challenge found is then rephrased into a HMW statement. Below are a few examples,

HMW reduce the barrier to entry for tech startups?HMW utilize abandoned properties as a “carrot” to attract aspiring tech startups?
HMW transform Gary, IN into a team of regulatory entrepreneurs?HMW utilize Colorado-like resources & Chicago proximity to drive millennial tech growth?
HMW deploy a culture of permission-less innovation?HMW reduce barriers for new company adoption? (Housing cost, attracting talent, technological freedom, evasive entrepreneurs, risk taking, tech-enabled taxing)

Each of the above is an example HMW statement derived from insights or unanswered questions. Once a pile of stickies has been generated, the next step is to affinitize the stickies (This means identify common categories or families to form groups). You can see in the above picture the stickies were affinitized into “Gary = Proving Ground”, “Government Enablement”, and “Attracting “Things” & “People””.

All this work leads to the creation of a redefined problem statement! In this case, the problem statement became,

“How Might We Enable Gary’s Ecosystem To Attract Talent Utilizing Natural Resources (National Park, Dunes, Lake Michigan, Proximity To Chicago) to Become a Tech Start-up Proving Ground?”

NOTE: None of the above steps included ANY solutions or problem solving. In this phase, we only care about defining what challenge the team will be solving. A great thing about redefining the problem this way, is it forces the team to re-examine what really matters to the customer and determining the appropriate customer.

Steps & Supplies,


Every person should have a stack of sticky notes (I prefer 3″ x 3″, but 3″ x 5″ work great) and a thick marker (Sharpie/dry erase). The thick marker forces the team to write clearly and succinct.


  • Write HMW in the upper left corner of a sticky note
  • Read, listen, or watch research on problem and challenge (Must include feedback from the customer’s perspective)
  • Hear something interesting? Form that thought into a question using HMW and write it on your sticky note.
  • Peel the note off and stick it somewhere
  • Repeat!


So What?

So you don’t to use this method, it is perfectly acceptable to approach a challenge the traditional way. The traditional method comes with a lot of assumptions including,

  • The customer actually knows what their problem is… (Rarely the case)
  • The customer and team solving the challenge has NO preconditioned solution or expected output from the exercise. (If you already know the solution, why are we here?)
  • The problem presented is the correct problem to be solved and not just a symptom of a much larger issue.

Using HMW and other tools to redefine the problem helps ensure the team is driving in the right direction and most closely identifies the root cause of the issue.

My personal experience when hearing pitch competitions and mentoring six-sigma projects is people and teams often approach a challenge with a solution. This solution was likely developed before the problem was defined and becomes analogous to using a hammer to vacuuming your carpet. How do you know this solution will work for your organization? Is this the best solution given the requirements? Do you know the requirements and what it takes to implement the solution? How might we identify additional stakeholders to ensure we’re solving the right issue and/or quickly receive feedback on the predetermined solution to gain an idea if this would actually work?

Always be sure to know the question before giving a solution – otherwise who may be saying, “Jesus is the answer!”, but the question was, “Who farted?”.



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