Brainstorming is a popular technique used to advance teams along toward their goals.  

A creativity consultant Dr. Min Basadur initiates such idea exchanges by asking the question, “How might we?”  

According to Basadur, it’s a subtle but distinctive way to frame the conversation.  Most folks start with “What should we do to solve a problem?” or “What can we do?” Those questions suggest there is a right solution.  It invites you to reach a result too quickly.  

Each of the three words in “How might we?” opens the conversation.

For example: 

  • How – Asking “how” is a request for alternative recommendations.  It assumes there is a better way.  It expresses confidence in the ability of those assembled to come up with alternatives, and that a good one will be reached.
  • Might – The word “might” is different from the words “should” or “can.” It invites a flurry of alternatives without committing to one. It allows others to make suggestions.  Saying “might” invites others to think in terms of “might not.”

 Saying “we should” or “we can” carries a bigger stick.  For instance, as CEO, I have learned that when I say “we should,” it takes a great deal of courage for teammates to be willing to debate me.  

When I say “we could,” there is a tendency for others to withhold ideas, because when I say “we can” do something, it is more likely that it will be supported with resources.  Taken literally, the word “might” means it’s just another idea.  

  • We – The word “we” speaks for itself. It is inclusive. It is better than “you” or “I.” All of us together are smarter than one of us. The use of the word “I” gets in the way of full participation.  

According to Basadur, many people who hear about this approach are skeptical initially.  But when they use it, they become committed. As a leader, the question “How might we?” causes me to remember the elements of a good brainstorming process.  It encourages creativity and openness to ideas among the teammates. That is a good process.