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"How Might We" Questions: A Powerful Tool for Reframing Problems as Opportunities"

"How Might We" Questions: A Powerful Tool for Reframing Problems as Opportunities"

5 min read


During the ideation phase of a retrospective or workshop, we come across a lot of problems. We see opportunities to improve our product or services for our users. But a problem statement brings our mind to a limited state where when can't alter the status quo.

A 'How Might We' question reframes the problem statement to an opportunity question so we can launch our innovative thinking. It is a starting point for the team to generate ideas on possible solutions and helps to spark innovation.

Where does 'How Might We' come from?

'How Might We' was introduced to IDEO by Charles Warren.

Now it is being used in almost every aspect of the design thinking process. And helps teams around the world to come up with an innovative solution to their problem.

Why does 'How Might We' work?

Great question. Well, coming up with ideas is already tricky. Definitely, when you hear problem after problem after problem after... You get the point. When your thoughts think about something negative, it impacts the ideas you're going to have. That's what happens when you focus on pain points.

Language is a powerful tool. When you turn problems you are trying to solve positively, it changes your mind and the ideas that will flow out of you.

Three disarming words

'How might we ... ?' is an optimistic way of seeking new possibilities in the world. These three simple words can transform the problem you are facing positively!

The 'How' suggest that a solution is right around the corner.

The word 'might' lowers the bar a little bit. It helps us come up with wild and improbable ideas instead of our first basic ideas. Giving us more chances to find the right solution to the problem.

The 'we' establishes ownership of the problem. It is not one person that is going to solve this. It is the whole group, and it is our problem and, ultimately, our solution!

Where do 'How Might We' Questions fit in the design thinking process?

In our design thinking process, we try to find ways to alter the status quo. Before starting to innovate, a team starts in the research phase. They'll try to get all the information for their specific case. Jumping straight into ideation limits the team because much information is missed.

When all the information is gathered and visualized, the team can start their ideation process. This is where the hmw questions come in. It creates an actionable problem statement. It's the perfect starting point for creative ideas.

In a collaborative effort, the team starts its design challenge. Each team member shares their respective point of view, and they try to find all possible answers to the design challenge.

The result of the ideation phase is to devise a particular solution for their problem definition.

How to write great 'How Might We' Questions to flourish creative thinking

Now we know that 'How Might We' questions are a platform to generate solutions. They must be properly framed.

Don't make it too narrow

Narrowing down too much in your 'How Might We' questions, so it suggests an idea will limit you and your team. Yes, even if it is a good idea! We are trying to capture the problem when writing our opportunity question. We are not yet in solving mode.

Don't make it too broad

Similar to narrow opportunity questions, a broad opportunity question stymies the flow of ideas for you and your team.

The perfect scope

A great 'How Might We' question allows someone to come up with ten different ideas easily.

It gives participants a jumping board to explore wild ideas.

Example one

Problem statement: It's so noisy around here that I have trouble concentrating

Challenge that is too similar: How might we reduce noise so you don't have trouble focusing?

Challenge that is too narrow: How might we create more private offices so employees can concentrate better?

Challenge that is too broad: How might we help people focus?

Challenge that is just right: How might we design the space to accommodate a range of working styles?

Example two

Problem statement: I wish our staff got their expense reports in on time.

Challenge that is too similar: How might we get people to be more timely with their expenses?

Challenge that is too narrow: How might we use a smartphone app to speed up the reporting process?

Challenge that is too broad: How might we get people to have more respect for deadlines?

Challenge that is just right: How might we simplify the expense reporting process so people can complete it more quickly?


"How Might We" questions are a powerful tool for reframing problems as opportunities for new possibilities. They change how we think about a problem and the ideas that come to mind. To write great opportunity questions, it's essential to avoid making them too narrow or too broad. The perfect scope allows someone to come up with ten different ideas quickly.

And don't forget. Practice makes perfect! I'm still struggling to come up with the right opportunity questions. I review them every time we've done a brainstorming session.

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