Innovation doesn’t just happen. It requires conscious changes in behavior that enable teams to look at problems differently, brainstorm in new directions and find solutions that align with unmet user needs.
In ExperiencePoint’s workshops we refer to these as the six habits that drive creativity. These habits are at the core of design thinking philosophy and have been helping companies break through the mental barriers that prevent them from being disruptive. Each habit is distinctly useful at different steps in the innovation process, though they do not need to be followed sequentially or all at once. Adding even one step to the way a team problem-solves can push its creativity in new directions and help them tap into solutions they might never have otherwise considered.
The first habit is the easiest to apply and it can have the biggest and quickest impact.
Habit #1: Ask Brilliant Questions
Asking brilliant questions is a mainstay of design thinking. Brilliant questions help teams create a framework for what they are trying to do and creates an environment that fosters big ideas. They are also surprisingly easy to ask.
Every brilliant question begins with the same three words: “How might we…” They may sound simple enough, but these three words were chosen for specific design thinking reasons.
Implies a sense of positivity. It is intentionally non-binary and demonstrates a commitment to action.
Lowers the bar for what is a good idea. Often in idea generation sessions people are afraid to suggest a crazy idea for fear of sounding foolish or naive – but that’s how creative solutions take root. By saying “how might we” instead of “how can we” teams create space to think big. Even if their initial ideas are impossible or impractical, they create a foundation upon which better ideas can be built.
Reinforces the importance of teamwork and collaboration as part of the creative process. There are few problems that can be solved by a single person working in isolation. Using the word “we” promotes team ownership.
How it Works
“How might we” needs to be followed by two things: a user group and a benefit to that user group. i.e. “How might we help managers better act on employee feedback?” When you start with the audience and a benefit to them, it creates room for big ideas to emerge, while making sure they stay aligned with your business goal.
Whether a team comes together with a fully formed solution or no idea what they are going to do, asking “how might we” helps to focus the conversation. For example, before Uber came up with Uber, they might have asked “how might we help consumers who own their own cars earn extra money?” Or “how might we make taxi services better for customers?”
Even if you already have a great idea, asking “how might we…” can help you decide whether it is the best way to go – or if there are better ideas to pursue. For example, ExperiencePoint recently worked with a group of executives from a movie theater chain, who had the idea to replace plastic straws with paper straws to reduce the environmental impact of their concessions.
It was a great idea, and we still helped them vet it by asking “How might we help customers reduce the environmental impact of their movie going experience?” Starting with the question, rather than the solution, helped the team look far beyond plastic straws. They generated dozens of ideas in the workshop on how they could lessen their environmental footprint and promote their environmentalism — including using the cups to educate customers about the environmental changes they are making and the impact they are having with every purchase.
Reframing problems as brilliant questions enables brilliant solutions. Even better – it takes just minutes to do. Of all the six habits, asking brilliant questions is the easiest to do, and it has a big impact. When we teach this to people and organizations, they report that the language quickly gets rooted in the corporate culture, and quickly becomes addictive. Try it once, and you’ll find yourself using it again and again.
Don’t miss Luke’s next blog post on habit #2: Looking for inspiration in extreme users.
Luke Brodie is an enthusiastic Master Facilitator with ExperiencePoint. He energizes groups of business leaders through spirited deliveries of award-winning ExperienceInnovation and ExperienceChange workshops for Fortune 500 companies. He also empowers training partners to scale their impact around the globe. Luke holds an MBA from the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and has worked internationally in a variety of professional roles including airline management and as a professional musician.