How Might We

I and others have devoted a lifetime to teaching how innovation can really work and really make a difference.  It is far more than a mis-used phrase or slogan.

There seems to be some discrepancy  with who originally coined the phrase “How might we?” and I would like to shed some light on the evolution of this phrase for the design thinking community.

Sid Parnes

Sid Parnes was the most influential person in my career.    Sid and I became lifetime colleagues and close friends from 1971 at the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI).  I have participated as a leader in almost every summer and Winterfest CPSI conference since then.   My relationship continued with Sid and his wife Bea, when they moved to San Diego, and I was with them a few months before he passed away. 

I have Sid’s original creative behavior guide book still with me as a compass,  guiding my work in the  organizational and corporate world.  I have devoted my life to building on Sid’s early creativity research,  learning how to apply this research in the real world.  Fortunately, my work at Procter & Gamble (R & D) was a perfect place to make discoveries and build a body of knowledge addressing how creativity and innovation can work within a corporation.

Inclusive For The Benefit Of Innovation

Everything I discovered at P&G , I always shared at the next CPSI conference.   Like Sid, I never worried about who received credit . We were a family.  For example, I expanded Sid’s 5-step Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process into a new eight step circular process and proved that it works and how it works in the corporate world.  This led to my award winning PhD doctoral dissertation in 1979 “Training in Creative Problem Solving : Effects on  Deferred Judgment and Problem Finding and Solving in an Industrial  Research Organization.”

Defining The Problem

An important part of Sid’s process was defining the problem.  He suggested phrases such as “How to”, “Ways to”, “I wish”, ”In what ways might we”, and “How might we” as ways to take a fact and turn it into a challenge.  From these phrases, he selected the phrase  “In what ways might we” as most helpful  for all of his future teachings.  Early in my work, I found, in the corporate world, that the phrase “How might we?” was more effective than Sid’s “In what ways might we?” because in the real world workplace, people seemed to understand and accept this phrase more readily.  One of my discoveries was that most people in the workplace had difficulty understanding the value and importance of problem definition.   Most were more solution oriented and they wanted to jump into solving the problem right away before understanding it. The choice of “How Might We” seemed to really help.

Since my dissertation, my learnings have been published in numerous Industrial and Organizational Psychology publications.  I have shared and documented the process of innovation and the creative  thinking tools that make this process work, such as the “Why what’s stopping Analysis” and “Challenge Mapping”.  Both tools have been trademarked, among others.

Deferral Of Judgment

Above all, Sid Parnes was a living example of deferral of judgment, the fundamental principle behind keeping an open mind.   This principle includes inclusiveness, engagement, diversity and equality and they are all important to the innovation process becoming successful. 

The phrase “How Might We” is part of the innovation process and is not a stand alone phrase that will somehow create a miracle solution. “How Might We” is only a small part  of the innovation process as a whole.  It is a disciplined process to be learned and applied to help anyone or any team solve problems of any kind, in any endeavor.   This is all Sid and I strived for.