The Magic Question: How Might We?

Quartz: “IDEO has developed a brainstorming strategy that relies on three simple words: the phrase ‘How might we’ …. How might we make our teams more engaged? How might we foster deeper relationships between employees? How might we inspire more frequent knowledge-sharing? The same approach is popular at Google and Facebook, according to the Harvard Business Review.”

“While the phrase ‘How might we’ seems pretty basic, each word is intended to serve a specific purpose. ‘How’ asks employees to be descriptive, ‘might’ suggests there are good answers, but not a single correct answer, and ‘we’ evokes inclusivity and teamwork, says Duane Bray, IDEO’s global head of talent.” In particular: “The word ‘might’ encourages people to enter into discussions with a sense of optimism, pushing them to see the possibilities in any challenge.”

“The phrase ‘how might we’ signals that risky or outlandish ideas are welcome. And it’s far easier to reign in crazy ideas than to make cautious, mediocre ideas more interesting … Lastly, IDEO has a strategy to ensure that people at all levels of a company are empowered to contribute to the conversation. After an HMW question is asked, the firm asks participants to spend a few minutes jotting down their thoughts on a Post-it note. This empowers the discussion leaders to call on anyone in the room, rather than relying on the boss to speak first and set the course of the conversation for the rest of the session.”

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