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Ideation 1: How Might We?

Dan D’Souza

Programme Manager

Creativity and ideation play a crucial role in the development of innovations. Where do you even start to become creative or even come up with new and exciting ideas?

In this two-part blog, we will guide you through this process that all begins with “How Might We?”. In this first blog, we show you why it’s important to start with a problem, using the How Might We? (HMW) problem statement to figure out the root cause.  And in next blog, we will use ideation and creativity techniques to come up with potential business solutions in order to create a solution statement.

Why do we BEGIN with a problem?

Why do you start a new business? To solve a problem! This is a very misunderstood issue within both the corporate innovation and the startup space. There are plenty of individuals who have a really great idea, and it’s really cool, and ‘shiny’, an example can be Google Glasses which never gained any traction in the market. What you have to realise is that people only buy new solutions when it fulfils their needs. Whether that helps them save costs – like cloud computing (using online storage instead of on-site computer storage) or generate revenue, such as Alibaba using AI across their company for functions such as recommending products to customers to delivery service run by AI robots. It is best to practise thinking about the problem first. Connection with the core problem identified can be very helpful because it helps you gauge whether your solution is close to solving the actual problem (hence people giving you money to solve it) and it motivates you when times get tough validating or building that solution.

The End Is Where We Start From

The great thing about a problem is that there is an infinite amount of them and you can probably come up with many just by looking around you. Problems can yield more meaningful insights, stronger ideas and solutions. It benefits you to be focused on the problem before thinking about the next best innovation for the world. By allowing yourself to focus on the problems rather than the solution, you allow your mind to be flexible and find the best fix (solution) for your problem rather than being influenced by confirmation bias (where you have an initial idea and you are only looking for the exact problem which fits your solution – it will always lead to a dead-end, or just wasting much of your spare time). A perfect example of a well-known concept delivering on a customer problem is Netflix. Netflix was born as a rental service operating online. The customer problem that existed was that customers wanted the ability to get videos directly to their doorstep, without paying extortionate late-fees for renting videos from brick-and-mortar stores such as Blockbuster. Netflix filled the gap and provided an online service which provided a solution to their problem. Netflix later dominated the video rental business after Blockbuster declined a partnership deal with them, in which Netflix proposed to run the online side of their business. Netflix then continued to improve their solution and overtook Blockbuster in value, and Blockbuster subsequently went bankrupt! Based on Blockbusters reliance on charging late-fees and not innovating/changing with the new technologies; they failed. Netflix were using a subscription fee model which nullified the need for late-fees; in addition to being purely online allowing customers to have a wider variety of choices, and lower fees. 

Diving into the problem

Begin with your problem statement, it is a short statement which addresses the core problems and frustrations that customers are facing, it is a way that your team can focus on the real reasons that you are creating a solution, instead of going on a tangent and creating something that’s not relevant for customers. The best way is to start by rephrasing and framing your Point Of View (POV) as several questions by adding “How might we” (HMW) at the beginning, you can fill in the gaps which follow. For example, How might we create less pollution when people commute to work (problem to solve) through/by inventing a new technology or decreasing the volume of people commuting by car (speeding up, slowing down, changing, inventing a new, etc) so that the environment can heal, and we are not dealing with the devastation of climate change in the near future (this can happen).

How might we ___ (problem to solve) through/by ___ (speeding up, slowing down, changing, inventing a new, etc) so that ___ (this can happen). Try breaking this larger challenge of global topics (such as world peace, fighting climate change, or defeating violence) into smaller, more actionable and focused topics like decreasing factory emissions in Europe to slow climate change. Three to five ‘How Might We’ questions for one point of view is a good starting point. Below is an outline you can use to assist you.

Look at your How Might We questions and ask yourself if they allow for a variety of solutions to be generated. If the volume of solutions which can be implemented is low, broaden your How Might We (meaning think of a larger problem) as you may have thought quite niche. This is fine however, you will have more difficulty in the next steps (brainstorming).

It’s better not to actively force yourself to come up with problems and ideas. Instead, learn about a lot of different things such as keeping informed on technology websites and publications, listening to podcasts and thought leaders on topics you are most passionate about. Practice noticing problems, surroundings that seem inefficient, and major technological shifts which you could see assisting your area of work. Work on projects you find interesting. Go out of your way to hang around smart, interesting people. At some point, thoughts will emerge.

It’s crucial to always begin with a problem. Use a problem statement to help you generate clear addressable problems/frustrations which your customers are facing.

So now you, have your problem statement, it’s time to generate the solutions.  We will show you how in the second part of this series.  Stay tuned!