A surprising number of the great innovations emerged through unexpected discoveries. From pacemakers to paper clips, our lives have been transformed by chance insights. So why do teams ask questions to which they already know the answers?

It is almost an innovation maxim that solutions should be unexpected. This is why questions that begin with ‘How might we…?’ can be so powerful. The early stages of innovation are about gathering information, insights and ideas, so How Might We (HMW) questions are specifically designed to spark brainstorms, accessing a wide range of possibilities instead of targeting a single obvious solution. They prioritise open thinking that assumes there is a solution, but not what that solution is.

Importantly, while they invite a wide range of answers, the best HMW questions distinguish the problem from its symptoms. This distinction goes to the heart of true human-centric design. When an organisation’s Net Promoter Score is slipping, you could ask ‘How might we improve our score?’ A more focussed question would be ‘How might we improve our customers’ experience?’ Or even, ‘How might we learn from our customers about their needs?’

Our client Sarah Garton at Accenture has become a proud advocate of this innovation tool. “How Might We has really shifted our thinking,” she says. “Now, we are going out to users and extreme users to ask them questions. The unexpected insights you gain are the little golden nuggets that can make you come up with a completely different solution.”