What is the "How Might We" Technique?

Annie Cederholm
by Annie Cederholm
Digital Strategist

Last Updated: October 29, 2019

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One of the fundamental tools used in the Design Thinking process is "How Might We" (HMW). Rephrasing statements or questions using HMW enables organizations to think in terms of opportunities, rather than problems when developing solutions to their challenges.

HMW is about improving ideation and is built to shake up the thought processes keeping people stuck on an issue. Using the phrase works on the principle that it is better to embrace opportunities than to focus on the negative feeling of a problem. During design sprints, openness to new ideas is essential for participants to develop innovative solutions, and HMW is a simple concept that produces the unconventional creativity needed to do just that. 

The format and wording of How Might We is intentionally specific:

  • How implies possibility. It suggests we don’t have answer yet, helping us to set aside prescriptive briefs and explore a variety of options.
  • Might makes "it" an option among many. We may or may not do “it.” “It” is a possible solution, not the only solution and allows us to look at multiple solutions and not fall into thinking the first one is the right one.
  • We is collaborative. We do it together. The idea for the solution will come from a collective team effort.

One of the most commonly known stories about a successful early implementation was with Proctor & Gamble in the 1970s. P&G had been struggling to conceptualize a new product to bring to market against Colgate-Palmolive's new green-striped soap, Irish Spring. As a consultant brought in to help develop the new product, Min Basadur recognized that the right questions were not being asked. Questions such as "How do we" were stifling creativity, so Basadur replaced them with "How might we", relieving the pressure of focusing on their competitor's product and allowing easier development of the new product. 

Read More on Design Thinking"How Might We" is a prime example in how using words indicating possibility and potential can reposition the team's approach to a challenge, revealing a myriad of questions and ideas. However, the Goldilocks Principle still applies in finding the right questions to ask. The questions cannot be too broad or specific as to limit the responses, as Tim Brown of IDEO said, “You need to find the sweet spot.”

"How Might We" creates the space and structure to address challenges by pivoting the perspective. By reframing the question, any emotional or negative pressures are removed, because words such as "should", "can", and "do" are no longer making demands or limiting direction. 

Read more on Design Thinking and follow our new series on how Design Thinking and Design Sprints enable digital transformation as we prepare for the 2019 ASAE Annual Conference this August.