Within the world of problem solving and idea generation, there are two schools of thought: Divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Let’s take a closer look at what these two terms mean:
- With divergent thinking – think free flowing & abstract
The goal here is to come up with as many answers, concepts or suggestions as possible. This of course requires a lot of creativity with no restrictions. No answer should be seen as wrong or too crazy, all ideas should be considered, no matter how left field they seem. Sometimes the best solution isn’t obvious right off the bat, but a crazy idea could have grounding for a solid idea to develop from it.
- With convergent thinking – think structured & well-defined
This technique is best used where the answer to the problem should be relatively straightforward. It requires far less creativity and way more logic. With convergent thinking, you’ll draw from common knowledge, facts, previous learnings and recorded data. Think of exams at school or university for example. To pass these, you had to apply convergent thinking, not divergent thinking.
From this definition, these two thinking methods can seem competing in many ways, and for a very long time it was seen as an either or option. But over recent years this view has slowly changed and more and more companies are realising the benefits of employing both.
Now the question is: How do you use both divergent thinking & convergent thinking towards improved problem solving? At Analyze, we recommend a two-step process:
- Step 1: Start with divergence
Divergent thinking can be a daunting task, especially if your team does not fancy themselves as being creative. The fact is, creativity is not owned by “creatives”. We all have creative ability if given the chance to explore this part of our persona. Create a safe zone where ideas can flow, use other companies doing great things within your industry as a source of creative stimulus and collaborate with other departments/teams to come up with a broader range of ideas. The most important thing to remember is to resist the temptation to shoot down an idea that seems too impractical or unrealistic in any way. Every idea must be documented, no matter what.
- Step 2: Finetune with convergence
Now that you’ve got that list of ideas, it’s time to narrow them down to find your ultimate solution. At this point you need to consider things like your customer preferences and what you think will resonate with them most, your team and corporate culture and how this influences project dynamics, as well as your broader company strategy and goals. Use these to define a set of criteria that can be used to evaluate each idea and assign a viability score. If you end up with 2 or more equally promising options, ask your team to do a quick vote to see which one they’d choose and why. It’s a great way of generating a productive debate which will help to narrow things down further.
Need someone to facilitate a think tank session or brainstorming exercise? Could your team benefit from an outsider’s perspective to assist with solving a particular problem? Get in touch.