How Might We

Much has been written about these magical words. At the last count there were over 7.5m results for the Google search on ‘How Might We’, the ‘secret phrase top innovators use’ according to the Harvard Business Review. Why do these particular words free up creative space?

The 'how' part assumes there are solutions out there -- it provides creative confidence, Brown said to me. “‘Might’ says we can put ideas out there that might work or might not – either way, it's OK. And the 'we' part says we're going to do it together and build on each other's ideas.”

In innovation workshops with entire faculty, it is tempting to have everyone looking to solve the same challenge – after all, that will bring a certain leadership in goal. Yet, time after time, we see a benefit in splitting faculty into teams of 3-5 people to investigate a broad challenge area, in the form of a wicked problem, and see what different, more specific problems they unearth through their immersion and synthesis.

Even when faced with the same broad wicked problem to investigate, teams from the same school can develop wildly different specific problems that lend themselves well to being solved. For example, ‘engaging better with the school community’ is too broad, and doesn't help us really understand the problem at heart (that is, what is it we're trying to solve?).

But in the hands of some mixed-school teams in Australia, one wicked problem becomes a wide selection of far more precise, concrete How Might We problems which spur us better into ideation:

How might we improve the attendance of our indigenous parents at parent-teacher interviews?

How might we help get technologists to talk to teachers and teachers to talk to technologists?

How might we better engage our parents with what we really do in our classrooms?

How might we inform parents about what they need to know when they don't have internet access at home?

How might we create mental space for teachers to get reengaged and experiment, be free to be more creative?

How might we help parents understand that how we teach their kids needs to change?

How might we help teachers to redefine their role as learners?

How might we educate our parents to understand the educational benefits of an education grounded in real world mathematics?

An English elementary school, Simon de Senlis Primary School, was looking at ways to reinvigorate the beginning of its school year. From that broad exploratory area, their How Might We statements led to swift ideation and a raft of new challenging opportunities for young people:

- How might we ensure that children's return to school is motivating and exciting in order that they are emotionally and academically ready to achieve their full potential?

- How might we crack on in September?

- How might we help learning start on September 5th while easing in those children who need eased in?

- How might we help students on September 5th understand what a successful end to the year will look like?

- How might we involve parents in pitching sessions that engage all children?

- How might we help all students understand why they feel what they feel when they come back to school after the summer?

- How might we help all students adapt to change over summertime?

From one wicked problem sprouts a broad variety of small, concrete problems, but they are small enough to be ideated upon, and those ideas prototyped, by relatively small teams, without the need for heavyweight accord and agreement from senior leadership, school boards and so forth.

Each problem has been developed using a common set of experiences, insights, observations and data, but with a different empathetic lens. The difference this makes to problem definition is obvious, and yet another reason for leadership teams to beware defining problems from within the closets of the boardroom.

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Malie Watson

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