In the pursuit of innovation and problem solving, the first and most critical step is often to find the right question to work with.
The “Why-How Elevator” as a method is inspired by the metaphor of an elevator with two buttons, Why (up) and How (down), offers a creative approach to identify and define the level of the challenges we face.
We embark on a journey in this inventive elevator method and discover how it can guide us towards the most appropriate problems to be creative about.
What is the “Why-How elevator”?
Imagine entering an elevator with only two buttons: Why and How. These buttons represent the basic questions that can help you find the right level of challenge to tackle.
When you press the Why button, you go up to more general questions, while the How button takes you down to questions at a more detailed level of the problem.
When to use it
The Why-How Elevator method serves as a valuable tool for problem formulation:
- Identify the right level of problem formulation.
- Generate several alternative problem statements.
- Break down complex problems into manageable subproblems.
- Increase motivation by broadening problems and exploring more aspects of an issue.
How to navigate in the “Why-How Elevator”
- Start by formulating the problem you want to work on without thinking too much. Write it down.
- Think about the starting question and ask yourself the question “Why (does it need to be solved)?”. You formulate the answer as a new challenge and you now therefore have a challenge at a higher level. Consider whether this question is more relevant and provides more ideas
- Now proceed to the How button. Initiate the How journey from the same starting point and level as the Why journey, i.e. the first question you formulated.
- Ask yourself the question “How (could you solve it)”. How the questions will provide concrete ideas and potential solutions. Note these and formulate them as challenges but on a lower, more concrete level. Do not treat them as final ideas or solutions at this stage.
You now have several alternative questions at different levels. Reflect on which one is most relevant and gives you the most energy to work with or use them all in turn.
Suppose your problem is to improve the quality of your products. When you enter this level in the elevator, answer the Why question. Why do you want to improve quality? One answer could be “Because then the product lasts longer”. The new “higher” question becomes: “How can we make products last longer?”. You can now press the why button again: “Why should the product last a long time?” …and so on.
When we go to the how button, we ask ourselves “How can we improve quality?”. An answer can then be “By checking the product more carefully”. The new question at a “lower” level becomes “How can we check the products?” Etc.
It is important to be aware that some answers to the Why question may initially take a negative direction, often in the form of “Otherwise something bad will happen…”. Try to reframe such answers in a positive light before moving on to the next Why question. If you can’t find a positive angle, go back to the source to generate more positive answers to the why question as a basis for new questions.
The “Why-How Elevator” method offers a creative and structured approach to problem formulation and challenge identification. By systematically exploring the “Why” and “How” of a problem, you can gain deeper insights, discover the most appropriate challenges to address, and thus generate more creative ideas.
Also remember to smile. A positive attitude can make the process of asking “Why” several times in a row less scary – so don’t forget to smile!