"As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
How Might We

How Might We


Create more powerful brainstorms by using the 'How Might We' methodology, a simple language tweak that unlocks creativity.

Language is important because the words we use hold power.

When we brainstorm, we often prefix the process with statements like “how can we do this?” or “how should we do that?”. In both cases, the language is implying judgement - it is subconsciously seeding the idea of “can we really do this?” or “should we be doing this?”.

These statements close down creativity - but with a simple language tweak you can overcome this barrier.

A History of How Might We

In the 1970's, the marketers at P&G were trying desperately to compete with Colgate-Palmolive who had released a new soap called Irish Spring. This featured a green deodorising stripe within the soap, and was achieving great cut through with customers.

Fresh out of ideas, the team hired consultant Min Basadur to help them in their efforts.

Basadur had the insight that the marketing team might be asking the wrong questions. Instead of saying "How can we make a better green stripe bar" they should be asking a more ambitious question - "How might we be making a more refreshing soap of our own".

When this questions was rephrased, the creative floodgates instantly opened, and ideas came flowing out. This led to further questioning - "Why were we trying to make another green striped soap?" and "Why are we trying to copy a competitor, instead of thinking about what the customer ultimately wants (i.e refreshment)".

The brainstorm session ended up with the insight that the feeling of refreshment is often associated with the seacoast. This led to the creation of the Coast soap brand that has since become a hugely successful brand in its own right.

Why It Works

How Might Be is so powerful because of simple semantics.

"How" assumes that there are solutions out there.

"Might" suggest the group can put ideas out there that may or may not work - either is ok.

Lastly "We" suggests the group is going to do it together, building on the inputs of each other.

The next time you are creating a brainstorm for something that is ambitious yet achievable, make sure you monitor your language, and employ “How might we…” to open up the idea floodgates.

Author's note, all frameworks are inherently flawed, so apply them wisely. The utility of a framework is always dependent on the individual problem at hand.


Warren Berger.

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