How to form the right "How Might We?" question
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
– Albert Einstein
A little background: How might we origins trace back to 1970's. It was created by Min Basadur, the creator manager of Procter & Gamble. At the time, the company was competing with Colgate-Palmolive's green and white striped popular soap product. Basadur realized the marketing team was asking the wrong question (“How can we make a better green-stripe bar?”) and instead came up with “How might we create a more refreshing soap of our own?” that opened up to hundreds of new generated ideas. This was through focusing on the consumers' needs, and thinking through the consumers perspective; which was the feeling of refreshment, not the green stripes.
Basadur thinks that asking the wrong questions and trying to solve the wrong problems is a common problem for companies when it comes to problem definition.
Design thinking requires students to ask questions such as "How might we?". However, coming up with the right how might we questions (HMW) is easier said than done. In fact, when I first came across with the HMW question form, I did not realize there were ways of effectively formulating it. Since thinking about the problem takes longer than thinking about the solutions, it makes sense to work on our HMW questions through the words we use to form them.
I have done some research online from various resources on asking effective HMW questions. I'm sharing some of the tips that could also be useful when your students work on hmw questions.
TIP 1: HAVE YOUR SUBJECT IN MIND
Think of the problem and it's root cause from the eyes of the subject (empathy lens) when generating solutions. Think deeply about in what ways your solution helps the subject.
Problem: Students aren't aware of the club offerings at school.
Solution: How might we increase student awareness of the school's club offerings?
TIP 2: DON'T WRITE QUESTIONS THAT ARE TOO BROAD OR TO NARROW
HMW questions that are too broad: How might we solve air pollution?
HMW questions that are too specific and limitating: How can we decrease the school drop out rates by %1 next year?
TIP 3: AVOID SUGGESTING SOLUTIONS
To keep the possibility of solution forming, try to use open-ended questions that can lead to the generation of more solutions.
Insight: Students are unsure which form to complete when they choose a club.
HMW (poor): How might we tell students which form to complete when they choose a club?
HMW (good): How might we ensure students feel confident when they are filling in the forms correctly?
TIP 4: DON'T FOCUS ON THE SYMPTOM, FOCUS ON THE ROOT CAUSE
Insight: Students come to the teachers' room because they are unsure which form to complete.
HMW (poor): How might we stop students from coming to the teachers' room?
HMW (good): How might we ensure students feel confident about which form to complete?
TIP 5: USE POSITIVE, ACTION VERBS
Instead of using negative verbs such as ‘stop,’ ‘reduce,’ ‘remove,’ ‘prevent,’ ask your students if they can frame the questions more positively by using positive action verbs, like ‘increase,’ ‘create,’ ‘enhance,’ ‘promote’ and so on.
Lastly, you can create a checklist for your students, so that they can track the efficiency of their HMW questions. Here is a sample one.
Is the focus on the subject/user's needs?
Is the focus on the root cause instead of the solution?
Is it too broad or too narrow?
Is it written positively with the use of action verbs?
Is it written in an open-ended instead of suggestion a solution?
This worksheet from Stanford dschool gives some strategies to use your current perspective on the challenge to create different How-Might-We questions that may prompt an array of fruitful ideas. Click below to download.
Harvard Business Review
Nielsen Norman Group