The Power of 'How Might We' in Innovation and Problem Solving

“How might we…” Those are 3 of the most powerful words in innovation. Learn a turn of language that can transform a complaint into a question that draws fresh ideas and new thinking.

Video Transcription

Today’s tip is about the secret power of language. You see, language and creativity are joined at the hip. In the words of philosopher Peter Strawman: “Language is the vehicle of thought.” And “After a point, what we can’t say, we can’t think.” I’m Sarah Thurber, and this is your thinking tip from FourSight.

Words have the power to influence thoughts. I don’t just mean your words influence my thoughts. I mean your words influence your thoughts. The words you choose to describe a problem can actually influence you’re ability to solve it.

Let’s try this out. Listen to the difference between these two sentences: These meetings are unproductive. How might we make these meetings more productive? They both acknowledge the same problem: Unproductive meetings. But the words in the first sentence frame it as a statement of “fact.” A fixed reality. (Sometimes known as a complaint.) The second sentence “How might we make these meetings more productive?” is a question. It invites solutions. It even suggests that you might be coming up with some of those solutions.

The key phrase “How might we” is the secret to triggering new thinking. Turning your problem or complaint into an open-ended question automatically sets your mind working on creative solutions. It’s not even happening on a conscious level.

Now you try it… Here’s the problem: We can’t afford a vacation. Now, turn it into a question. Start with “How might we…” How might we take a vacation? There you go! Bon voyage.

The phrase “How might we” actually made headlines in a recent Harvard Business Review article called “How might we… The secret phrase top innovators use.” So next time you have a problem, watch your language. Phrase it as a question with words like, “How might we…” If your words can ask it, your brain can solve it.

That’s your thinking tip from FourSight.

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Sarah Thurber

Sarah is managing partner at FourSight and the author of Good Team, Bad Team, The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker, Creativity Unbound, and Facilitation: A Door to Creative Leadership. Her work helps teams and leaders think creatively, work collaboratively and achieve innovative results.