This is a part of the Creative Problem Solving Toolkit (2023).
Use when exploring what challenges need to be addressed in order to make progress.
This is a tool for Divergence.
Prerequisite for this tool is an identified goal/ problem focus for the group to work on.
What and Why?
The tool “How might we…?” (HMW) is commonly used in creative problem-solving processes to rephrase problem statements into open-ended, solution-focused questions. It is a simple yet powerful tool that encourages generative thinking. Instead of starting with a traditional problem statement (For example: “We don’t have the resources we need”) that can be limiting or constraining, the HMW tool prompts the team or individual to rephrase the problem into an open-ended challenge question that provokes the mind to generate possible solutions. (For example: How might we acquire the resources that we require?)
The most important element of the challenge statement starter “How Might We…?”, is the word “Might” which encourages the exploration of different possibilities and removes the pressure of finding the perfect solution right away.
Use this tool if you want to:
Generate diverse challenges and focus areas from different perspectives.
Foster collaboration and collective input.
Overcome limitations and shift the focus to possibilities.
Stimulate outside-the-box thinking and breakthrough innovations.
A. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation (35 minutes)
Introduce the Reframing tool and demonstrate how it works by providing some examples.
(See optional warm up exercise in Tips below.)
Individuals work alone on generating as many Challenge statements as possible. Capture output on individual post-it notes.
Invite participants to pair up with someone else and to generate more challenge statements together. After a couple of minutes use one of the following prompts:
Debrief the activity. Invite the group to share what they experienced as a result of using this tool.
B. How Groups Are Configured
This activity requires individual work and working in pairs.
It can be used with groups of any size with a consideration for an appropriate mechanism for capturing the output.
C. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed
Use post-its for groups of 25 or less
For larger groups recommended to use Mentimeter or equivalent technology
Paper or Post-its
Flip charts or paper roll to create a large Challenge wall
Tips and Watchouts
Use this optional warm up activity (10 minutes) to introduce the tool:
Ask the plenary group what problems they encounter/ or what bugs them when traveling internationally.
List the first 5 to 10 responses on a flipchart at the front of the room.
Now invite the group to reframe those responses into challenge statements using HMW or WMBAT.
Push them to reframe each listed problem into 2-3 different challenge statements.
For example: Baggage fee is exorbitant (Problem statement)
How might we avoid paying baggage fees?
What might be all the non-essential items we could leave behind?
How might we pack everything into carry-on luggage?
What might be all the ways to repurpose a minimal travel wardrobe?
Stop when it is clear the group has understood how the tool works.
IMPORTANT: This is a tool for divergence (generating multiple interesting options). Once the group has generated multiple options, you will need to facilitate a convergence (making of choices) to identify one or more challenges to focus on. You might consider using 4”I”s for this purpose.
As the group first generates post-its - check that they are using the statement starters of “How might we…?” If they are not, return the post-its and ask them to reframe them correctly.
Encourage the participants to use the abbreviations HMW.
Remind the participants that this tool is helpful as a way to break down a complex goal or problem into more bite-sized pieces.
Beware of overgeneralization. “How might we stop climate change?” is not likely to yield helpful or actionable ideas.
Don't neglect problem/context understanding: While reframing is valuable, it should not overshadow the need to thoroughly understand the context. Take the time to gather relevant information, analyze the root causes, and gain a deep understanding of the context before attempting to reframe it.
When people around you are talking about problems, use either “How might we/I/you…?” or “What might be all the…?” to turn their complaint or irritation into an invitation for actionable solutions.
Riffs and Variations with Examples
An additional challenge statement starter which could be used as a supplement to “How might we…?”/ “What might be all the…?” is “In what ways might we…?” (IWWMW).
Multiple Perspectives Reframing: Encourage multiple perspectives by assigning different stakeholders or team members to reframe the problem from their unique vantage points. Each person can approach the reframing process based on their expertise, role, or experience, leading to a diverse range of reframed statements. For example:
The engineer reframes: "How might we leverage technology to make public transportation more sustainable and efficient?"
The communication specialist reframes: "How might we promote public transportation as a convenient and desirable mode of travel for commuters?"
The urban planner reframes: "How might we integrate public transportation into urban design to create more livable and connected communities?"
Although the “How Might We…?” prompt is often credited to Design thinking as its source - this prompt was in fact first used as an approach to Problem finding in the Creative Problem-Solving process by Sidney J. Parnes.
Parnes, S.J. (1967). Guidebook to Creative Behavior. New York: Charles Scribner.