Cloud designed by Steven Pasterz from The Noun Project

Cloud designed by Steven Pasterz from The Noun Project

The Harvard Business Review posits that our language can have a profound effect on our creativity. Compare “How can we” with “How might we” The latter suggests wide open possibility, the former a glimmer of probable success. From the piece: 

When people within companies try to innovate, they often talk about the challenges they’re facing by using language that can inhibit creativity instead of encouraging it, says the business consultant Min Basadur, who has taught the How Might We (HMW) form of questioning to companies over the past four decades. “People may start out asking, ‘How can we do this,’ or ‘How should we do that?,’” Basadur explained to me. “But as soon as you start using words like can and should, you’re implying judgment: Can we really do it? And should we?” By substituting the word might, he says, “you’re able to defer judgment, which helps people to create options more freely, and opens up more possibilities.”

Read the entire article here.

  • Sarah Peterson

    Great article. I like the bit about the green stripe soap: “He also urged the P&G team to step back from their obsession with a competitor’s product and try to look at the situation from a consumer perspective: For the customer, in the end, it wasn’t about green stripes, it was about feeling refreshed.”

  • maizi

    Surely that should be ‘affects’ in the title?

    • Sean Blanda

      Correct! Good catch!

  • Lee Carnihan

    It “might” be a good idea to use “effects” in the title. It depends what you mean 🙂

    Effect, as a verb, can mean “to bring about” as in “How might we bring about creativity?” If you use “affect” you’re implying a definite or direct change and causality.

    To my British English ears, using “might” instead of can, could or should sounds like an obvious Americanism or terribly formal British English, and for that reason it would sound out of place or at least be very noticeable in the conversation as not being the norm. Would that stimulate more creativity? I don’t know. I’ve worked for American companies (Coke and Cisco) and am used to hearing all sorts of non-British phrasing but for people who haven’t then I’d be interested to know the “affect” of HMW.

    I’m not suggesting there isn’t a causal link between stimulating more creativity if you use HMW, I’m interested to find out if there is a cultural bias. I still think the underlying point about trying to use specific language to stimulate creativity is spot on.

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