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How Might We?

“ I know you won’t believe me, but the highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others.”

-Socrates, the Greek Philosopher

Questioning is not only important in Philosophy but also in problem solving, strategic planning, management and in almost every walk of life. Michael Marquardt wrote a full book on questions titled ‘Leading with Questions’ !! The book rightly narrates an educative real-life story of Cindy Stewart, ex-President/CEO of the Family Heath Council.

One of Cindy’s first jobs was in a sewing factory, job entitled moving work from one process to the other so that none of the workers are idle and hence delivery timelines could be met. One day, she overheard the management discussing a bottleneck that routinely occurred with one style of night-gown.


The management tried many solutions but none worked. “I wish they would ask me, since I was the closest to the problem. They never asked me”. In avoiding questions, the factory management closed off important source of ideas and problem-solving ability suffered as a result.

One powerful question ‘How Might We?’ is of significance in narrowing down solutions to a problem. This question forms an important part of the #DesignThinking process. The moment you pose a question to a problem, you can realize, few answers if not many queues up in your mind asking you to pick them as the answer to the question you have in mind. Is it a magic? No, it is science. Questioning forms the critical part of #CognitiveBehaviouralTherapy. Warren Berger in #HBR, Harvard Business Review called it as ‘The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use’.

The process of Problem Solving through #DesignThinking works as follows. Break the bigger problem at hand into key insight statements. Then for each insight statement, form a corresponding ‘How Might We? Question and find answers. You may use an #IDEO template for this activity.

Here is an example. Consider the Covid19 challenge countries are facing. The insight statement is, though lock-down helps in controlling the virus-spread but it also curtails economic activity. For this, question could be

  • How might we control the virus spread without impacting economic activity?

Presto! you get more than one answer for this burning question.

Keep in mind an important criteria, question and answers should originate from a brain-storming activity attended by a cross functional team of interested-parties.

Next time around you have a problem, try out this powerful tool How Might We?, but don’t forget to consider the wisdom of Cindy Stewarts!!


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