“How Might We”: The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use

Source: HBR blog, Sep 2012

How do Google, Facebook and IDEO jumpstart the process that leads to innovation? Often by using the same three words: How Might We. Some of the most successful companies in business today are known for tackling difficult creative challenges by first asking, How might we improve X … or completely re-imagine Y… or find a new way to accomplish Z?

It’s not complicated: The “how might we” approach to innovation ensures that would-be innovators are asking the right questions and using the best wording. Proponents of this increasingly popular practice say it’s surprisingly effective — and that it can be seen as a testament to the power of language in helping to spark creative thinking and freewheeling collaboration.

Brown observes that within the phrase, each of those three words plays a role in spurring creative problem solving. “The ‘how’ part assumes there are solutions out there — it provides creative confidence,” Brown said to me “‘Might’ says we can put ideas out there that might work or might not — either way, it’s OK. And the ‘we’ part says we’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas.”

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