What? Why? How?

Creativity is seen as messy, chaotic, squishy, and overly associated with art, so its practical benefits are lost. But creativity can use a framework to make it less scary and undefined. Think of a three-question loop: Why? What If? How?

Why? seeks understanding, and it can be intentionally challenging. For instance, how many squares are below?

The “faster horses” answer is sixteen. But if we look closer, we’ll discover not only sixteen single squares but nine two-by-two squares, four three-by-three squares, and one four-by-four square. Asking why recursively forces perspective. Why do we want faster horses?

What If? helps us think of different combinations of existing things. For instance, Netflix combined video rental with a monthly health club membership. For the faster horses problem, we could ask “what if trains could use roads instead of tracks?” Note the word “could.” Vocabulary is a minor detail, but it’s powerful. “Could” implies opportunity, choice, and abundance. “Should” implies a mandate, a decree, a fixed solution.

How? helps us stress-test solutions. We might find the What If proposal impossible. But we don’t have to get stuck here. We can start the loop of Why? What If? How? and loop and loop until we find something that works. This will take time, but it’s better to slowly solve the right problem than quickly invest in the wrong thing.