Imagine a Headline from the Future

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Translate problem statements into a “How might we ...?” proposition.
  • Lead a Headlines exercise.
  • Describe the aspiration of your innovation project.

How Might We Flip Orthodoxies into Opportunities?

Coming out of the exercise in the last unit, it’s understandable if your team is a bit riled up with frustration over the consequences of so many orthodoxies. Before a feeling of doom and gloom overtakes the room, flip the conversation with a flip in language. Renowned teacher and researcher Min Basadur used the question “How might we?” as a way to engage in problem-solving and innovation discussions in an optimistic way.

How signals that change is possible.

Might acknowledges that the task is hard and you might not succeed.

We holds everyone in the room accountable.

Here’s how to transform a problem statement into a “how might we” statement.

Problem Statement How Might We
Aqua Blue is losing customers, and we need to do something different or our business and brand will suffer. How might we create a customer experience that is so effortless and delightful that guests don’t want to stay anywhere else?

Reorienting the business problem in this way expands the scope of possibility for the solution. Next, we’ll walk you through an exercise that stretches your team’s ambitions to help you design for tomorrow and not just today.

Headline from the Future Exercise

Display 5–10 copies of business magazines around the room with provocative covers. Ask your team, “By choosing to innovate around this topic today, what should we aspire to achieve in five years? What would the headline say on the cover of any of these magazines?”

This exercise is an important moment in your brainstorming efforts in which you want to change the direction of ideation. Provoke the team to aim higher, think wackier, and view the opportunity from all angles. During a lull in conversation, throw out a provocative notion like, what if a startup could reinvent this experience from the ground up? What benefits to the customer could they offer to instantly differentiate their company?

Your goal is to elevate the level of thinking and ideas away from what’s possible today to opportunities that feel uncomfortably exciting because they feel far away in the future.

A provocative headline for Aqua Blue Properties could read:

Magazine cover: Travel in style. Aqua Blue Properties: This Year's Master of Customer Experience

What does this headline signal? It indicates a vision for Aqua Blue that involves delivering a guest experience that’s driven by cutting-edge technology meant to offer the utmost convenience at a price that is accessible to the masses.

At this stage, you’re not focused on how you’ll get it done. Instead, you’re defining a dream—a target to aim your innovation efforts at.

Tips for Common Pitfalls

Focus on possibilities—Avoid addressing limitations. Instead focus on possibilities, and remind folks to suspend disbelief to maximize creativity.

Focus on thinking boldly—Some literal-types in the group might say, “We don’t care about headlines. This isn’t about press!” While that might be true, remind your team that the intent of this exercise is to encourage bold thinking. The idea is to ensure that you’re aiming for something that’s new and useful enough that attracts attention at scale. Also make it a results-oriented goal that can be easily summed up in a brief headline.

Focus on the message, not the language—It’s okay if your team members aren’t creative writers. Usually, one or two folks excel at coming up with catchy messaging. (They probably use 140 characters on social media.) You can always take time after the session to get the language right.

Socialize Your Aspiration

Before leaving your session, make sure that the group has come to agreement on the best headline. Ask the teams to pitch their headline and vote on the best. Afterward, you and your core team members can clean up language and wordsmith as necessary.

But don’t stop there! Create impact and engage your steering committee and executive sponsor by sending them an image of a magazine cover with your headline imposed on it. Kudos if you have design skills. If you don’t, ask a designer to start with the cover of a popular business magazine and then alter it to show your headline. Include a paragraph of text that elaborates on the meaning behind the headline and the orthodoxies that you intend to put to rest in pursuit of this opportunity.

Alright! Your innovation project is taking shape. The next step is to solidify it further with a charter.

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