How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s a good idea, but …”?

Invariably, the “but” is followed by a list of reasons why the good idea should be abandoned immediately, in its entirety, without even a moment more of consideration. And frequently, that’s exactly what happens.

Even if the “but” wasn’t terribly consequential, or could have been overcome, the negative thinking underlying the statement tends to doom good ideas that may have had the potential to be built into game-changing innovations. Despite paying lip service to the importance of creativity and innovation, we often greet unusual or novel suggestions with an almost immediate barrage of reasons why we can’t do things that way.

But what if we could find a way to maintain forward momentum while still outlining challenges? By deliberately and routinely using the phrase “How Might We…?”, we can turn negative thinking on its head, and put the focus on finding ways to bring good ideas to life, rather than putting them to death.

Rather than saying, “It’s a good idea, but…”, we respond with, “It’s a good idea. How might we free up money in the budget/staff time/computer resources to make it work?”

By focusing on the possible challenges that stand in the way of implementing the good idea, we not only preserve the idea as a possible route forward, but we also bring our energy and thinking to bear on the true challenge, which is the shortage of budget or staff time or computer resources.

“How might we…?” also sets a tone of collaboration, with its implicit suggestion that we can all pull together to eliminate challenges. It is a unifying statement, as compared to the divisive “good idea, but”, which establishes an atmosphere of conflict and creates the impression that one person is throwing roadblocks in front of another’s suggestion.

Good ideas are a resource none of us can ever have too many of, and they need to be nurtured and treasured. By incorporating “How Might We…?” into our evaluation of options, we can protect, preserve and build on new and innovative concepts and visions.