Fine-Tune Your Team’s Vocabulary to Shape a Creative Culture

To  change attitudes and behaviors, it helps first to change the vernacular.   – David and Tom Kelley, IDEO

Language is the crystallization of thought. But the words we choose do more than just reflect our thought patterns—they shape them. What we say—and how we say it—can deeply affect a company’s culture. To spark innovation, it helps to influence the dialogue around new ideas.

David and Tom Kelley are the founders and partners in IDEO, one of the world’s leading innovation and design firms. According to the Kelley’s, IDEO’s favorite antidote to negative speech patterns is the phrase “How might we…?”  It was introduced to them by Charles Warren, now’s senior vice president of product design, as an optimistic way of seeking out new possibilities in the world. In a matter of weeks, it went viral at their firm and it’s stuck ever since. In three disarmingly simple words, it captures much of IDEO’s perspective on creative groups:

  • The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remain­ing is how you will find success.
  • The word “mighttemporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows you to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving you more chance of a breakthrough.
  • And the “weestablishes own­ership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group.

Using this phrase is not just a matter of semantics. Thoughts become words, and words become deeds. If you get the language right, it affects behavior.

Defenders of the status quo often say, “We’ve always done it this way” or “Nobody does it like that.” With a series of “why” questions, an eight-year-old could disarm such defenses.

But adults sometimes forget the simple power of words.

Try fine-tuning your group’s vocabulary, and see the positive effect it has on your culture.


Adapted from Creative Confidence, by David and Tom Kelley.

Would you like help in fine-tuning your team’s vocabulary? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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Recent Comments
I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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