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)

The 3 problems with ‘purpose’

There are three problems with purpose.

The first problem is that a lot of companies really don’t have a big interesting purpose aside from making a profit no matter how hard they might go looking for it (which is absolutely fine in itself).

You can put a lot of standard webshops into this bucket. None mentioned, none forgotten.

If you own or are employed at a standard run-of-the-mill company, by all means don’t spend a lot of time and energy on finding a purpose that is going to be and feel forlorn anyway.

Focus on your core; profit and growth. And be totally fine with that.

If you are in a company which actually do have a purpose, do spend the time getting it right and use it to build your company culture, attract the right talent, delight customers etc.

You and your company will be all the better for it, I’m sure.

If it works.

And this brings me to the second problem with purpose; when things go south.

As big an enabler a clear and strong purpose can be, as big a bummer it can be, if you’re not aligned about it, and if people start breaking ranks focusing instead on other things.

Because just as a great purpose can unite, a forlorn purpose that is not truly shared can drive apart. And ultimate failure can follow.

That basically leaves you with the last reason why purpose can be a problem:

The excuse.

When things go south you can try to seek cloud cover behind your purpose; that at least you tried to make a dent in the universe or whatever lofty purpose you have formulated for yourself.

You use the purpose to convince yourself that everything has not been in vain. That there was a reason for everything, where in reality it is most likely BS.

So all in all: Think about whether purpose is something you should be spending time on. If you decide it is, make sure it’s for all the right reasons, and that you can justify doing so any day of the week to people who are sceptic about it.

That’s usually a pretty good test of the strength of your purpose anyway.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The ‘why’ on paper

One of the really interesting things you come across when you’re trying to build what hopefully becomes a great and enduring company from scratch is how much of your initial belief system, values and ambition actually makes it through the immense exercise of making it all happen?

While it should be pretty straight forward to agree on that a shared vision, ‘why’ and core values, I think you also need to realize that getting from talking about it to actually living it and agreeing on it in your founding documents can be a significant exercise in itself.

This may especially be true when you’re trying to build something with great and experienced people centered around a shared vision and sense of ‘why’. You may not have known each other for years in advance before you take the plunge, and your co-founders may not be lifelong best friends of yours.

What you essentially end up betting on is ability to take something thats easy for you all to agree about when talking about it in meetings into something that you can all actually commit to on paper.

Don’t mistake what could be a huge thing and a big task to secure alignment for a minor detail. Because it’s not.

There is a – and will likely always remain – a big difference between talking about doing something and the need to get it done and then the real commitment towards making it happen. And the sooner you start and have that conversation during your process, the better I think you will be off.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)