Kickstart Innovation with One Question

I fangirled when I experienced design thinking for the first time with IDEO. I mean, I really fangirled in a way I never have when encountering celebrities. I first had my eyes opened by IDEO in a video shared in business school…the infamous shopping cart video. A few years later, I had the incredible opportunity to work with and learn from IDEO. I soaked up design thinking like a sponge. The most fundamental lessons I learned came before any innovation even started.

One of the key components that differentiate Design Thinking from traditional problem solving approaches is the art of framing challenges. Instead of starting with a rigid problem statement, Design Thinking encourages us to phrase challenges using the open-ended and optimistic “How Might We” format. This small linguistic shift plays a pivotal role in shaping the mindset of problem solvers and kickstarts innovation that delivers creative, collaborative, and user-centered solutions. Each of these seemingly three simple words have been selected for specific purposes. Let’s break them down.

The “How” part of the question encourages a mindset of exploration and curiosity. It assumes that the problem can be solved in at least one, if not multiple ways. It focuses on the act of solving the problem already through action.

The “Might” part of the question is when ideation becomes a natural extension of the problem solving process. It creates a fertile ground for brainstorming sessions where teams can freely generate and explore a multitude of ideas without feeling constrained by predefined problem boundaries. Instead of should or would or will which implies there’s only one right answer, using “might” shifts the focus from constraints and limitations to possibilities and opportunities. This open-ended approach stimulates creative thinking and allows for a broader exploration of potential solutions.

The “We” part of the question is inherently positive and inclusive, fostering a collaborative atmosphere. It implies that the challenge is a shared responsibility, inviting input from diverse perspectives. This inclusivity enhances team collaboration and generates a sense of ownership among team members.

Next time you’re in a meeting or even just trying to work through a problem on your own, try phrasing the problem in the form of a “How might we…” question and you’ll be amazed at how quickly the creative juices start flowing.

If you’re interested in learning more about Design Thinking or hosting a highly interactive, fun, and effective session for your team, please reach out to Julie Lee ( for more information.