Reframing “How Might We…”

In my previous agency job I spent quite a lot of time working with the Google Design Sprint methodology, and I even got to a couple of moments of fame, when I both ended up teaching the methodology at the Danish Technological Institut as well as running a sprint for Google themselves.

There were – and are – a lot of great things in the Design Sprint methodology, which when applied in the right way can really bring ideas, conversations and work in general forward.

One of them is the “How Might We…”-question. It is a very elegant way of reframing a problem into an open-ended solution mindset, you can actually use as the foundation for working on fixing that problem.

There is one issue with the question though IMHO: It is not really good at framing the context of the question being asked.

But maybe there is a simple fix for that which makes the question even more powerful to ask? And not only for Design Sprints but for general conversations about vision, strategy and “What’s next?” for our company?

What if you started your “How Might We…”-question with a statement of fact to set the context?

Like: “Since we now have a sales model that works for other peoples products, how might we best introduce our own private label offerings?”

Or: “With maturity reached in our beachhead market, how might we go after the next vertical to grow our business?”

By doing it this way, you not only provide context to the open-ended solution oriented question. You also create a strong sense of why it’s important – almost “do or die” – for you and your team to spend precious time on looking to solve the problem.

And it will eliminate time wasting from those that will always be asking “Why?” whenever you try to introduce a new important project and leaving them with no or at least very little opt-out from stepping forward to help in coming up with the future solutions.

Essentially it underscores the “We” part of this collaborative proces. Which I think is key to the exercise and – done this way – a significant booster to get you set for a concerted, co-operative effort.

(Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash)

Vision needs strategy

Most startups are founded on a vision; a wish to help bring about change to something in the world. But many lack a coherent strategy of how to get there in the end.

How come? The difference is in the meaning of the various words.

A vision is like a desert mirage. It’s aspirational, something we can imagine but is not real – yet.

A strategy is a plan to find the waterhole in the desert, so to say. It doesn’t have to be a complex plan with a lot of moving parts, but it needs to be a plan that can – if nothing else – convince people that not only might you be on to something. You actually also have some kind of idea of how to capture it.

Many startups frown at the word ‘strategy’ and doing strategy work is a pretty long way down the list of priorities. But while it’s true that execution is key and should take precedence over ‘thought’-work, they still need to set aside time to develop the plan.

Otherwise how are they ever going to make it to the fulfillment of the vision?

By luck? By endless trial-and-error?

Of course not. So get the strategy that supports the vision in place. Make it flexible based on what you learn on the journey, but nevertheless utilize it as a map to get to the destination, you’re longing for.

(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)

”iHealth”: Challenge or opportunity?

Rumors have been rife for some time that Apple is working on including sensors for blood pressure, blood sugar and alcohol levels in an upcoming upgrade of the Apple Watch-series.

“iHealth” – for the lack of a better term – seems to be on the horizon. And while nothing is certain at this point – and never is for Apple – the rumors should give Health- and MedTech startups in the consumer space some pause. Because a crux time for monumental decisions may be coming up.

For those focusing on consumer hardware and software the basic question is this: Should we continue on our hardware path, or should we double down on software and let the likes of Apple take care of the hardware part?

The question is a valid one for everybody working in the personal health space, and if the rumors hold true there is no reason to believe Apple is going to stop there. The giant will be innovating full steam ahead and include more and more sensors and features in their wearable devices with battery life most likely being the main hurdle to success.

And why will they double down in this area? Two reasons.

First of all while there is great need for consumer-related Health- and MedTech devices, there is probably not much love lost for any of them, if they went away – from a pure customer experience point-of-view. Very few people get that emotionally attached to more clinical devices, but they do to Apples slick design, and the Cupertino-based company will likely in general hold a huge advantage in moving from consumer towards Health- and MedTech rather than the other way around.

The other reason for Apples focus in this area is one that I have mentioned before: They simply have to to drive shareholder value at their current valuation. A company as big as Apple needs super big new opportunities to grow, and the health sector is one of the only ones left with an opportunity that is big enough to make a difference to shareholders.

What may end up helping some Health- and MedTech companies looking at this enlarged competitive threat is the fact that not every consumer is into Apple. While the companies products and design is popular in many quarters a lot of the less well-off customer segments, who may also very well be overrepresented in the health statistics, simply can’t afford Apple products or don’t see the value to justify the price tag.

In order words there may be room for an Android like ecosystem of products and services that serves specific purposes at an affordable price. But is that juice enough for a Health- or MedTech startup looking to make it big in the consumer space?

That’s a really good question.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Deadly theater

Time and time again I hear from and meet startups who are eager to follow the corporate partnership route to gain traction in the market for their startup.

Sometimes it works out well. Most often – I would argue – it doesn’t.

I know this from my own prior experience from the corporate side. Yes, I have been one of the ‘fools’ trying to introduce startups to the corporate world as tomorrows fix on todays problems only to find that the organization had no intention of being ‘fixed’, let alone by a startup.

I can’t count the times I have engaged with promising startups with some great products and services under their belt and spent a ton of time on building the case and getting them introduced to the company – only for everything to come off the rails once the handover needed to happen.

Undoubtedly, I have a lot of the blame myself, as I should have spent more time and energy on facilitating the internal relationships necessary to enable a great collaboration – to enable my peers and colleagues to ‘see the light’ so to say. I naively thought it was rather self-explanatory.

It wasn’t.

Anyways, there are still a lot of startups out there who seems to think that pilots projects and strategic initiatives with big corporations are the best path towards fame and fortune.

If you are one of those, I highly recommend, you get yourself a copy of “Death By Innovation Theater: 10 Corporate Innovation Lessons Learned by a Startup” by Søren Nielsen, former CEO of now closed down FinTech startup Ernit.

Apart from being very well-written and with a lot of great references, the book is a tale of why all those aspiring promises in corporate partnerships never really amount to anything for startups.

In the close to 100 pages, Søren walks you through his own largely miserable experiences banking – sorry – and counting on corporate partnerships to work only to find out that he and his team was never more than an afterthought at best and entertainment at worst.

When you read it, you might believe it. Or you might think that that won’t happen to you. Don’t delude yourself. There is every chance that it will. Take it from me as a representative of the ‘innovation fools’ in the corporate domain – we’re not that different from each other.

Should you completely forgo any opportunities to do partnerships with corporates? Absolutely not.

But as Søren Nielsen also states make damn sure, you’re absolutely sure about what you’re doing and what you and your startup are getting out of it, before you dive in and spend too much time.

After all, you don’t want to die on the stage, do you?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

What chess taught me

When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing chess. I was part of my school chess club, part of the first team and at one time actually won the local county (amt) championship in my age group.

Chess was fun and interesting. And taught me a couple of important lessons about life;

Looking and planning ahead a few moves is cool. But if it comes at the expense of taking your eye of the ball of what’s happening right here and right now, you’re still going to loose.

So. Keep. Your. Eyes. On. The. Ball.

On the other hand; if you’re acting too quickly in the spur of the moment and not showing enough patience to completely your next move so it ends being a wise one, you’re also going to loose.

As in all other aspects a life, it is a question about balance.

Don’t overthink, don’t stress.

Be smart.

Contemplate the situation – state of play.

Think in options and alternatives.

Make the move that seems to bring you closer towards your objective while at the same time preserving your interests.

Repeat. And repeat. Etc.

More people should really take up chess.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The Catch 22 of strategy

2021 is upon us. And for many that signals the roll-out of a new strategy or annual plan.

While those often seem intuitive – sometimes even banal – getting them right is super hard.

It is vital to be able to focus on executing on the plan. Yet, it is also vital to be open to the element of surprise.

The balance between the two is super hard.

If you only focus, you will get narrow-sighted and probably not succeed.

If you’re always open for the element of surprise, you’re unlikely to be able to focus and probably not succeed.

And if you mix the two, some will focus too narrow on the former and some will be distracted by the latter.

It is just super hard to get right.

But there is no way around trying.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Always think about strategy

When you’re busy executing on tasks, it can be super easy to forget about setting time aside to think about strategy.

But you should. For a number of reasons.

First of all you need to always make sure that what you’re working on is taking you in the right direction. There is the old saying that while a manager is the one leading the struggle through the jungle, the leader is the one making sure you are in the right jungle to begin with.

Be the leader.

Second, thinking about strategy is what keeps you curious about the market you are operating in. It keeps you focused on your customers and their needs, on the competition and on emerging trends in technology and behavior.

All of these inform what you should be doing. And most importantly: They enable you to course correct on the fly.

Third, thinking about strategy on the go is what keeps you from having to start your strategy all over from scratch again. It enables you to mold and update your strategy, as you go, based on learnings. And thus captures the value of all your hard work – even the work that didn’t end according to plan.

Finally, thinking about strategy broadens your horizon and keeps you sharp. Think about it as essential training; with enough training you go from being a simple recruit to a Navy Seal. It’s just a matter of discipline and hard work.

So don’t ever let anyone tell you, you shouldn’t think about strategy, ok?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

That’s so junior…

Back in the day I had a very experienced direct report who I used as a sounding board for thoughts and ideas to bring forward to executive management.

We would meet in my office (even though technically I didn’t have one), and we would go through the arguments, I had thought of making.

If I was off track, he would say in a very calm voice, while quietly shaking his head:

“Mads, that is junior behavior”.

And then he would follow it up with his interpretation of what senior behavior, aka the right sort of behavior, mingling, getting my point across needed to be successful with that particular project in that particular organization would be instead.

I listened. I better; he was usually right.

Since then I have always treasured having a sounding board and someone to lean on when things become a big hectic.

It is a nice contrast to my normal passionate, energetic ‘give-it-my-all-(alone)’-approach I often find myself (inadvertently) taking.

What I probably should become better at is making sure that I use the sounding board, when I need to and don’t leave it too long. But that too is a journey and learning experience waiting to be converted.

Into senior behavior.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)