The hard question of HOW

This is sort of a public service announcement on What vs. How.

I work with super smart(!) people who know WHAT the problems are. They know WHAT levers will solve the problems. But, over and over, brilliant minds glide past this question: Do we know HOW to do it?

Um… maybe not.

How can you tell? Projects idle. Plans falter. Work gets stuck. People struggle. Oh, and people tell us they don’t know how.

So why do we skip past the question? Because HOW is a very different question than WHAT or WHY. It needs us to think differently – to think through something we know nothing about.

HOW is heavy lifting.

It’s easier (and quicker) to start from these Safe Assumptions:

    1. We don’t know HOW – yet.
    2. We have to imagine and invent HOW. (Even if “inventing” is adopting an established process.)
    3. Our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd guesses will be vague, complex, and *wrong.*
    4. No one single person can learn HOW for us. (Sorry.)
    5. If you hand off the problem to an “expert” in a silo, you still won’t know HOW.
    6. We’ll try to ignore 1 – 5.


So HOW starts as a thought experiment.

“Do I know how to do this? Oh crap, no I don’t.” That’s disorienting for sure. But it’s a much better starting point.

That’s because to make new things (or bring silos together) we sometimes have to invent the means to make those new things. Usually, we have to adapt our own thinking. Then the next problem to solve becomes obvious: how will we do this?

Here’s a simple short-cut for answering HOW.

Make stuff.

Seriously, create new things — especially visual things — that make the work more real for everyone: SIMPLE plans, designs, frameworks, blueprints, prototypes, process, scorecards, updates.

Honestly, it hardly matters what it is. Yes, I really said that. But this short-cut moves us out of rabbit holes and silos. (Also out of those meetings that go in circles.)

The key is continually putting new things “out there” in front of real people, so you can agree OR disagree. Then you can create another new thing.

We can forget that innovation is a *creative* process. Transformation too. And the way we innovate big things is by making lots and lots of little things along the way.

This makes everyone’s work easier.


carolyn solares
I help people find deceptively simple short-cuts to solving for HOW.
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